THE NFFA STORY
Vision and Objectives
Independence has always been a highly cherished possession of the small domestic farmer in Trinidad and Tobago. The National Foodcrop Farmers’’ Association (NFFA) contends that the Independence Document signed in August 1962 was the 1st step in a long journey towards True Independence which could only be fully achieved when as a Nation we could diversify our agriculture and feed ourselves.
The evolution of the modern network of farmers’ organizations has its genesis in the post 1970’s era when small farmers, especially those producing for the domestic market who considered themselves “independent” producers, began mobilizing themselves to gain recognition for their industry.
The National Foodcrop Farmers’ Association (NFFA) was born on November 9th 1974 with the vision of being a dynamic player in the agricultural sector and being the major organization representing the interests of foodcrop farmers in particular and other small farmers.
For almost four decades, NFFA has struggled for sustainable agricultural conditions and fair prices for food crops, livestock, dairy products and other agricultural products. NFFA has also remained steadfast in its struggle against many issues affecting the interest of farmers in general and its members in particular.
A Seed is Sown
The early to mid seventies witnessed an upsurge by farmers, particularly cane farmers, for organization and representation as part of a growing movement for true Independence. In 1972 Gopaul Naidu from Springvale, Claxton Bay and Boboon Ramcharan, a cane farmer and sugar worker, formed the Islandwide Cane Farmers Trade Union (ICFTU) to challenge the Trinidad Islandwide Cane Farmers Association and to engage Norman Girwar for leadership of the cane farmers.
Needing strong leaders they approached James Millette and Winston Lennard and Lennard checked out Raffique Shah whom he knew from the 1970 Black Power Revolution (both were in jail together). In February of 1973, a Press Conference was called to announce Raffique Shah as the new leader of the ICFTU, and within months thousands of cane farmers joined the ICFTU, completely eroding the membership of TICFA.
“He is the right man to come and talk to the farmers”.
In early 1974, Mubarack Ali from Aranguez, an ex soldier in the U.S. Army visited Shah at his home in Beaucarro to seek his assistance in organizing farmers in Aranguez and El Socorro.
According to Raffique: “I asked Mubarack to arrange a meeting of the farmers and call me. When I arrived at a school in Aranguez for the meeting, expecting to meet with ten or fifteen farmers, I was surprised by an audience of over three hundred farmers all clamouring for an organization to represent them.”
A steering committee was formed and began mobilizing farmers in the communities of Aranguez, El Socorro, Bamboo #1, Bamboo #2, Pasea, Caura, St. Joseph, Macoya and Maloney. On the 9th November 1974, the National Foodcrop Farmers’ Association was officially launched and a steering committee was selected.
The committee comprised of Mr. Nazim Ali, who later became the Vice President, Mr. Raj Dookhan, Mr. Bhangoor Singh, Ms. Rowtie Singh, Mr. Khemraj Nanhu, who later became the first General Secretary of the NFFA and Mr. Ragoonath Khemraj, who became the first President of the NFFA.
Other members were Randolph Chandrakate, Glen Ramjag, currently a Vice President,
Selwyn Sukhu, Ken Parmasad, Norris Deonarine, who became the Research and Education Officer and who over the last decade was the leader of the fight for Land Reform and Food Security and Pulchan Sookdeo, who later formed the T&T Farmers Association.
The first Constitution of the National Foodcrop Farmers Association, was adapted from the Islandwide Cane Farmers Trade Union’s Constitution. Although Shah never held office in the NFFA, he guided the Association in its infancy and laid the foundation for the NFFA to become a dynamic and progressive association. In the present day, NFFA considers Raffique Shah to be the father of the Association.
Shah recounted his greatest challenge in organizing the foodcrop farmers, “Farmers are a widely dispersed group and are prone to individualistic thinking. This is understandable as farmers tend to be their own boss and worker and as such are not given to collective representation. However, when farmers saw that they were facing the same challenges and needed proper representation, they realized their strength would be in Unity and organization.” Even to the present day, the farmers’ collective remains a challenge to organize, mobilize, and become self sufficient in their own right.
Farmers on the Move
In October 1977 the NFFA held it 2nd Assembly of farmers. Foodcrop farmers from all over Trinidad attended. By this time the NFFA had become a force to be reckoned with. Several prominent people were in attendance including CLR James and leading trade unionists.
Professor George Sammy gave the feature address entitled “The Future of Foodcrop Farming in Trinbago” in which he concluded -
“The nation must give to the small farmer his share of the economic cake. Above all other sectors, it is the small farmers’ “quality of life” that needs improving. In fact the small farmer has little or no quality in his life. The farmer provides an essential service to the community. In this respect he must be placed on an equal footing with all other professionals. His respect and place in the society must be returned to him, so that his children may be proud to walk in his foot-steps, knowing full well, that he and his kind are performing one of the most important functions in the society. The production and supply of food to the nation; this will come only when the farmer recognizes his own potential and realizes that his strength lies in unity with his fellow farmers.”
By the end of the 1970’s a Programme of Action was developed using the Peasants’ Charter published by the FAO as its basis. It included: network with scientists / technocrats, extension officers from University of the West Indies and the Ministry of Agriculture to improve standards and productivity.
Throughout its existence, the NFFA has associated with progressive organizations and trade unions, nationally and internationally, which genuinely represent the interests of farmers and workers in the common struggle for social and economic justice for all members of society. NFFA has also formed strategic partnerships with government institutions, financial institutions and other agricultural organizations. NFFA believes that effective and cohesive networking is a critical element in the accomplishment of its goals and the realization of its objectives.
NFFA has aided Trinidad and Tobago on its journey towards becoming a food secure nation, by embarking on, and maintaining a comprehensive and far reaching education and awareness campaign through its Education and Research Department.
Norris Deonarine (deceased) was the Research and Education Officer of the National
Foodcrop Farmers’ Association from 1994 until his untimely death on February 18th 2011. He was, and remains, the face of the agricultural movement of the late twentieth century and early twenty first century in Trinidad and Tobago. Deonarine believed that to be informed was to be empowered and dedicated his life to sharing information.
An integral objective of the NFFA has been to provide benefits for its membership as well as educational facilities and opportunities. To this end, NFFA has published, printed and distributed books, pamphlets, magazines and other literature on topics such as improved farming methods and techniques, fertilizers, pesticides, equipment and machinery, access to loans, and legal advice.
The Expansion Years 1978 – 1990
The early 1980’s saw an upsurge, a great leap in the activity of farmers’ organizations. The NFFA was making inroads throughout Trinidad and Tobago. The entire country was being made aware of issues facing farmers. Farmers were taking action to secure their interest.
Not only was the NFFA forming branches East, West, North and South but was also in the leadership of a movement to unify farmers’ organization.
A Committee for the National Unification of Farmers Organisations was formed under the chairmanship of
Dr. George Sammy, other members included:
- G Ramjag and R. Khemraj (NFFA)
- M. Ali (Central Tobacco and Foodcrop Farmers’ Association)
- R. Madho (Livestock Association of Trinidad and Tobago)
- B. Sahadeo (Trinidad Islandwide Rice Growers Association.
In 1987 the Federation of Farmers’ Association (FOFA) was launched, with Malcolm Campbell of the General Poultry Farmers Association at the helm.
In pursuit of its mission to organize and educate farmers nationwide, the NFFA began a concentrated programme of Recruitment and Expansion. Branches were formed throughout the geographical landscape of Trinidad. NFFA deliberately chose certain areas such as the State Land Development Projects (SLDP’s): Platinite, La Compensation, and Chatham. In addition, by the mid 1980’s, NFFA had branches in Aranguez, Pasea, Barataria, Mount Lambert, Garden Village, Biche, Plum Mitan, La Savanne, Guayaguayare and Paramin.
NFFA also formed affiliations with and gave solidarity to other farmer organizations such as the St Andrew/St David Farmers Organisation and the Guave Road Farmers Association, who up to today are still fighting to regain ancestral lands at Chaguaramas taken over by the U.S. Army during the 2nd World War.
Wherever the NFFA went its reputation for honest and fearless leadership preceded it and without any doubt Ragoonath Khemraj, first President General of the NFFA, a man referred to as “Gunsmoke” by former Prime Minister Basdeo Panday, must be credited with making the most significant contribution in bringing into national focus the issues facing foodcrop farmers in particular and small farmers in general
While doing this work of building strong farmers organizations The NFFA was building working relationships and networks with Ministry officials at all levels, from the Extension Officers go straight up to the Minister.
The NFFA has had formal interaction on matters of national concern with every Minister of Agriculture since the days of Mr. Lionel Robinson right up to Mr. Vasant Bharath, who advocated Food Security as one of the main pillars of his plan for agricultural development. It
is Professor George Sammy and the NFFA which first brought the issue of Food Security on the national agenda in the1970’s, and it was Norris Deonarine who up to his death in 2011 carried out a consistent struggle aimed at promoting “ Food For the Nation”
The Struggle for Land
In the Seed, the official newsletter of the National Foodcrop Farmers Association, in the issue entitled “Land Security for Farmers Now” dated August 6th 1982, it states “Land is a precious resource which should be used for the maximum benefit of the people of the country. It should not be mismanaged, used for speculation, or to play cheap politics. How can the removal of farmers from prime agricultural lands to put down houses be justified?”
It further states, “But this threat of eviction, of land insecurity for our farmers, this whole issue of open aggression and violence being done to our farmers must be challenged! Most of our small farmers, the people who produce the bulk of whatever food we produce locally, do not have land security.” This was in response to the eviction of farmers from Garden Village and Bon Air East.
The NFFA also made public the issue of tenancy for farmers in La Savanne, Guayaguayare, Cushe, Piparo, Bamboo, Pasea, Valencia, Maracas Bay and Caura. By 1987, even with the change in government from the People’s National Movement (PNM) to the National Alliance for Reconstruction (NAR), land security had become a sore point. How history repeats itself...the very people who whole heartedly supported the NAR, were being run off the land where they had farmed for decades. This was the Suscoonuscoo struggle.
In February 1987, the Paramin branch of the NFFA, took action against the Ministry of Food Production, Land, Forestry and Marine Environment. A camp was set up in front of the Ministry’s St. Clair office. This was a first for farmers in the history of Trinidad and Tobago. This camp became the rallying point for farmers throughout the country.
At one of the camp events, to highlight the plight of the dairy farmers, the Federation of Farmers Associations (FOFA) organized a Day of Sacrifice. The article in the Express on Friday 31st July 1987, written by Wesley Gibbings was titled “Milk flowed like water” and brings to focus the impressive force of the farmers’ collective. This struggle continued for two hundred and twenty seven days and nights.
At the end of which, then Agricultural Minister, Lincoln Myers was replaced by Brinsley Samaroo as Minister of Food Production. His arrival heralded a paradigm shift in the relationship between the NFFA, FOFA and the Ministry with the recognition of the important role of the Small Farmers in the development of Food Security and true Independence for Trinidad and Tobago. This struggle for land security for farmers seems never ending as, today, the NFFA is presently engaged in land struggles involving the eviction of farmers from prime agricultural lands.
Early 21st Century 2000 - Present
NFFA continued to be one of the guardians of agricultural lands in Trinidad and Tobago and engaged in numerous struggles in various communities throughout the nation in an effort to preserve this precious resource. The turn of the 21st century witnessed a great upsurge in environmental consciousness globally and locally since Trinidad and Tobago has been making strides towards industrialization at a fast rate. This time in the nation’s history saw many industrial projects being proposed that were questionable with regard to economic sustainability and with potentially disastrous effects on the environment.
NFFA holds the view that sustainable development and social justice go hand in hand and believes in preservation of the environment. The proposed smelter in Chatham saw NFFA at the forefront of the nationwide sensitization campaign to educate the national public about the dangers of the smelting process and also the error of attempting to locate heavy gas based industry on a water aquifer.
Through concentrated and persistent agitation and education, the Chatham branch of the NFFA, alongside the Chatham/Cap-de-Ville Environmental Protection Group, the Chatham Women’s Group and the Rights Action Group (RAG), were able to successfully halt the construction of the ALCOA smelter. Leaders of the movement Yvonne Ashby, Fitzroy Beache, Muriel Amoroso and Raphael Sebastien all give accounts of the struggle and remember the crucial role played by the NFFA and the RAG.
Later on, when over 1000 hectares of forest were bulldozed in La Brea and Union Village, the NFFA stood alongside community residents, members of the Union Village Council, the Rights Action Group and the La Brea Concerned Citizens United to lobby against the Alutrint smelter. By highlighting a faulty and irregular Environmental Impact Assessment which rendered the resulting Certificate of Environmental Clearance null and void, victory was won in the courts of Trinidad and Tobago.
NFFA celebrated victory once again with leaders in the community struggle; Elijah Gour, Anslem Carter and Marlon Greaves. However, the damage was already done to the wildlife, flora and fauna much to the dismay of the community, the hunters and the farmers. To assist in the reforestation of the ravaged land, NFFA spearheaded many tree planting exercises in this area.
The proposed industrial island in the Gulf of Paria in the quiet fishing village of Otaheite, saw NFFA rise to the defence of the people and the environment. Together with community residents, environmental activists, the fishing community and members of the South Oropouche Concerned Association (SOCA), the NFFA lobbied against this mega project asking instead for improved facilities for the fishing community and a greater focus on environmentally friendly and sustainable initiatives.
Claxton Bay Fisherfolk Association and the Pranz Garden Resource Group allied itself with the NFFA to raise awareness of the potential dangers to human health and the environment of having a steel mill placed in such close proximity to such a densely populated area. Again, the environment scored another victory, this time against the ESSAR steel mill project from India.
Cunupia Farmers Association and NFFA caused a national uproar when plans became public regarding the government’s intention to place a Rapid Rail through the prime agricultural belt at a time when the country’s food import bill had reached billions of dollars in value. Despite a feasibility study valued at almost half a billion dollars, concerns raised were enough to derail the Rapid Rail Project.
On this auspicious occasion of the 50th Anniversary of Independence, the NFFA wishes to thank all the many stakeholders who have worked to bring progress to our agriculture sector over the past 50 years.
At the same time we will be quick to point out that Food Security is still a Global challenge with many difficulties which require the collective talents and efforts of every food producer, every agricultural scientist, Extension officer. We need to come up with creative ways to release the full potential of our agricultural resources and to make a serious impact on our present dependence on TT$4 billion in food imports.