New Arima mayor Balliram Maharaj has urged youths to steer clear of criminal activities and consider engaging in agriculture as a more promising path.
He was speaking on Friday at the opening ceremony of the UWI TechAgri Expo, hosted by the Faculty of Food and Agriculture, with this year’s theme, Enhancing Youths through Agricultural Technology.
As he lamented Thursday’s mass murder in Guanapo, Maharaj said, “It is important that we speak to the youths here today, yesterday morning, four people dead, four youths, (my) heart bleeds. Youths, we not going there, I am begging you. I came from the bowels of agriculture. We cannot continue with this kind of murder.”
Maharaj spoke after Minister of Youth Development and National Service (MYDNS) Foster Cummings and commented on his statement that government plans to reduce the food import bill by 25 per cent by 2025.
“You also spoke about going into joint ventures with Ghana. For a person who is one of the biggest suppliers, importers of food in this country, I think 25 per cent is very ambitious. We don’t grow rice, we use to grow sugar, we used to do wheat and (I) could go on – it’s a little ambitious,” Maharaj said.
“I don’t want to fool you. Anything is possible with faith and manpower and thinking. We could do it – but good luck.
“In business, we say comparative advantage: a couple of years ago we got 10,000 acres of land from Ghana. That is where we have to go. What we could do better, we do; what we can’t do, we do with other people who have the land and cheap labour.”
In his address, Cumming highlighted government’s collaboration with UWI, emphasising the success of two ongoing agricultural programmes: the Shade House project and the aquaculture initiative.
He said the government is committed to reducing food imports by 25 per cent and increasing local production.
Cummings acknowledged the need to attract more young people to farming and expressed hope that technological advancements would make agriculture more appealing to youths. He said his ministry was dedicated to implementing policies and programmes that support youth entrepreneurship in farming.
On the Homestead programme, Cummings said graduating applicants would receive two acres of land, a starter home and a grant of $20,000.
He said monetary and evaluation units would also be established at each site and agro-processing units would be given to help create a sustainable market that can export products produced there. Cummings also said the Shade House project, a collaboration with UWI, aims to recruit 100 young participants. In his closing remarks, he emphasised the government’s commitment to the agricultural sector by highlighting the allocation of $300 million in the last two budgets towards the industry; he also called for collaboration with the private sector so advancement of the industry with young people can continue.
In his address, Senator Avinash Singh, from the Ministry of Agriculture, Land and Fisheries, emphasised the pivotal role of technology in attracting young people to the farming sector. He encouraged those in attendance to embrace technology within agricultural systems, highlighting its potential to catalyse the development of existing relationships and foster new partnerships with youths. Singh underlined his ministry’s commitment to reducing the food import bill.
He said agriculture has always been the backbone of the economy as he urged those in the industry to adapt to new technological advancements.
“Youths are our most valuable asset, and their involvement in agriculture is not a choice but a necessity.”
He reported an increase in this year’s applications for the agro-incentive grant, attributing it to the revitalisation of the industry through the introduction of technology.
Singh said since the grant’s inception, the government has disbursed $21 million. He concluded by emphasising the need for a holistic approach that balances short and medium-term gains with long-term prosperity and systems that benefit all stakeholders.
The TechAgri expo will run from September 22-24.