By Raffique Shah
June 14, 2021
I shall not dwell on the many options we have to produce some of the foods we consume and to reduce our heavy dependence on foreign foods for our survival. Far too many reports have been compiled by committees on this issue.
The fact that we have done very little to alter the food production equation in favour of local content or substitutes is a damning indictment against us all—from consumers who insist on foreign brands to farmers who cultivate or do not cultivate, depending on subsidies from government; from cooks who will not soil their hands preparing ground provisions for meals for adults who will die if they cannot get hold of foreign “fast foods” that are devoid of nutrition but laden with unhealthy ingredients and harmful additives that are addictive.
This is what lead us onto the fast lane to diabetes, hypertension, cancer and inevitably, early death.
I sometimes feel guilty after I write a paragraph like the one above, immediately regretting it, wanting to reach out and say: sorry, Breds, ah didn’t mean to hurt you. But another voice in my head, maybe kindred with Shadow’s “Bassman”, urges me: give dem it raw, Raf…these people ent care about themselves, yuh t’ink dey care about others? Look how dey turn de pandemic into a death parade by refusing to comply with simple safety measures.
But I have a heart, I still feel compassion for other human beings. I also feel obligated to share whatever little information and ideas I have so others can use them to make our Trinidad and Tobago a better place. Covid-19 has compelled many intelligent and strategically-positioned persons to rally ’round T&T as they had never before done. There is no surge of patriotism, mark you. If anything, there are larger numbers of shameless people who would sooner see the country sink in sewage than save itself from the ravages of the pandemic, only because of their political allegiances or racial identities.
Fortunately for us, those who put country first do what they must without even thinking about it. When I see young professionals and ordinary citizens speak out on what is required to restore confidence in the population, what we must do to revive the economy, to put us on a path to growth, and when they themselves plunge into activities that will benefit them and their country, I know all is not lost.
In food production, as an example, I have watched the quiet involvement of bright young people of different ethnicities who are not afraid of getting their hands dirty, if that is what it takes, sweating in the sunshine or getting wet in the rain, as they purposefully pursue their goals to produce food, to do it so that they can feed their families off the produce and the profits they make. Among them—and I’m sure I have become aware of only a minuscule number of those involved—are educated entrepreneurs who are delving into scientific farming—hydroponics, drip irrigation, integrated farming (produce and livestock), experimental ventures and more.
There is a farmer in Moruga who has plunged into hill rice farming, producing a quality grain that he has taken through the value chain to a professionally-packaged product that he markets as a premium rice at home and abroad. Staying in Moruga, but not confined to that district, is the highly-acclaimed Scorpion pepper that has won plaudits in niche markets in parts of North America and Europe. I am told that if this venture receives some help in marketing, it can grow into a significant export product.
A Penal farmer has expanded goat-farming into a bigger business that has absorbed government’s Aripo livestock station. His goat milk is on some supermarkets’ shelves, doing well. Yet another farmer has taken cassava and sweet potatoes into gluten-free pasta that has a ready market at home and abroad. And there are several cocoa estates that have been rescued from decline, are currently being restored and expanded, with many of them leaping from exporting our premium Trinitario-brand beans to manufacturing top quality chocolate bars and beverages that are in demand.
Most of these entrepreneurs are not seeking handouts from the government the way generations of farmers before them did. They ask little of the State: lease of lands that will enable them to secure financing for their ventures; upgrading and maintenance of access roads and watercourses; and specialist trade officers stationed at legations close to the main export destinations to assist in looking after their interests.
That’s not asking much for small businesses that can, however minimally, positively impact our balance of trade, our foreign exchange earnings.
Add 100 such agro-exporters to, say, 200 top entertainers, 100 fashion designers, and a generous sprinkling of exotic fruit and fruit confectioner exporters…..see where I’m going?