Where we stand‎ > ‎Media Releases‎ > ‎

FOOD SECURITY PROBLEMS RIPENING by Omardath Maharaj

posted 9 May 2018, 07:01 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 9 May 2018, 07:08 ]
Omardath Maharaj, agricultural economist
Planning and advancing food and nutrition security is a clear challenge for Trinidad and Tobago. In the absence of an overarching policy framework for sustainable agriculture and rural development, key stakeholders continue to misdirect advocacy and resources jeopardizing the national good. This multi-dimensional issue needs vision and leadership.

Glaring examples of our failure to mobilize and organize basic agricultural commodity production, marketing, and processing is becoming more evident as we aim to satisfy the national appetite.

In responding to a question on the Order Paper in the Senate recently, Minister of Trade and Industry Paula Gopee-Scoon said that

“At a recent meeting between the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries of Jamaica and a Trinidad and Tobago trade delegation, the issue of a trade imbalance between our two countries was discussed.

Both countries agreed to explore ways in which Jamaica’s products such as agricultural products can be utilized as inputs into the manufacture of Trinidad and Tobago’s products. In particular, Jamaica outlined its interest in supplying specific products to Trinidad and Tobago.

In addition, attention is to be placed on the removal of regulatory obstacles which may be restricting trade between the two countries. Further collaboration between the private sectors and the public sector agencies in both countries will continue in this regard.”

Simultaneously, in the House of Representatives in Jamaica, there was celebration. Minister of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries, Audley Shaw, reported that there was growth in seven sub-sectors in agriculture in 2017, when compared to their production in 2016. These are corn, plantain, banana, pineapple, dasheen, coconut and milk.

He said “Notwithstanding an overall decline of 3.8% in agriculture, we have seen growth in specific sub-sectors with a 7.9% increase in the production of corns, including hybrid corn, which grew by a substantial 14.9%. We also registered an increase of 6.1% in plantains, 10.4% increase in the production of bananas, 2.2% increase in pineapple production, 13.3% increase in dasheen, 24.9% increase in coconut, (and) while milk production increased by 10.6%.”

He added that “We've also had growth in exports. We exported 35% more bananas, 18% more yams and fish, more baked goods and 11% more meat and meat products.”

Image result for Jamaican bananasHowever, in December 2017, The Gleaner reported that “the first weekly banana shipment left Jamaica bound for Trinidad. With the support of European Union-funded capacity building training there was a 7.5% increase in productivity in the Jamaican banana industry.”

By January 2018, The Gleaner reported that “Trinidad had increased its weekly order of Jamaican bananas following the signing of a six month contract. Jamaica started by sending one container or about 900 boxes of bananas each week.” Former Agriculture Minister Karl Samuda had announced that “Trinidad wants three containers a week.” The Jamaican government has been working to consistently increase the export of bananas through the Banana Export Expansion Programme.

Of interest to me is Jamaica’s recognition that the success is due largely to a businessman's appreciation for the high quality of the Jamaican fruit. Janet Conie, General Manager of the Banana Board, explained to The Gleaner that “This businessman is the largest importer of bananas into Trinidad. He had a chance to visit fields in Jamaica and see the steps in banana cultivation, harvesting, and packing. The deal was sealed after he sampled the ripe fruit.”

"He wanted to see what we have, and because the quality is so good, he wants to up his price over there. We want him to up the price over here as well, so we think that six months will give us enough leeway to increase output. He is going to distribute in the Massy group, and at least 20 of the retailers are already asking for Jamaican bananas. We have a lot of fruit that's going to come in very soon in the Spring Gardens Agro Park, a lot of young fields that are coming in, all for this market."

“The Trinidad-based businessman is already exploring the option of importing potato and yam as well from Jamaica”, The Gleaner reported.

While I support the need to strengthen relations and reciprocity within CARICOM and trading partners, T&T’s position of declining foreign exchange earnings and reserves has allegedly put greater pressure on our capacity to import although the food import bill continues to rise. We remain hard-pressed to report expansion in food production and any permanent displacement of import dependency. There is, however, serious misinformation in the public domain and perhaps a misunderstanding of the situation at a policy level.

Food imports must be understood in relation to essential products which cannot be produced locally, significant intermediary products and concentrates which service the local manufacturing sector, food and beverages for the high-end consumer and restaurant market, and the influx of primary agricultural commodities and products that directly compete with farmers, fishers, and entrepreneurs.

According to UN COMTRADE Statistics, T&T would have imported just over $231 million in bananas and plantains between 2010 and 2015 primarily from Suriname, Dominican Republic, St Lucia and St Vincent and the Grenadines.

As I have said repeatedly and publicly over the years, while politicians and policy have seemingly attempted to promote local food production, they have simultaneously given greater facilitation and promotion of other sectors which demand billions of dollars in imported food and beverages to survive.

Image result for trinidad agricultural floodi9ngAfter several years of fiscal budget deficits and economic hardship, damage to the major food producing areas from flooding, dilapidated infrastructure, tenancy and other issues, it is a burden to maintain our dependency on food imports coupled with food price inflation and the urgent need to return value and opportunities to rural agricultural and fishing communities.

The food production sector continues to be misunderstood and suffers from a history of underinvestment and failed policy. In order to systematically reduce our reliance on foreign food products and bolster our own capacity, there must be a fundamental shift in the sector’s priority, raising it on the national development agenda which is to be supported by an overarching national policy framework for sustainable agriculture and rural development.

The stakeholders of the sector will then only begin to be motivated through greater consultation, collaboration, and coordination of the already limited resources since they have grown accustomed to doing more with less.

Policy includes identifying strategic programmes and projects aligned to measurable outcomes and its financial, human and technical resources. We must be mindful of the history of neglect of the agriculture and fisheries sector overall and appreciate that we cannot now try to do things in a recession which should have been planned and implemented in better economic times with greater fiscal space.

Higher prices in local markets, increased demand for imported equivalents – which we should be producing in this country - and foreign exchange pressure may put food and nutrition security out of the hands of men, women, boys and girls who need it the most.

Certainly, national support for the “local” notion will overwhelm current production in all sub-sectors. I am confident that demand will create supply but there are significant pre-cursors for growth and development that are unaddressed. Some of these issues will fortunately be ventilated at an upcoming symposium hosted by the UWI Faculty of Food and Agriculture entitled “Food and Nutrition Security”.

While much effort has been expended by some stakeholders on highlighting the issue of housing versus the St Augustine Nurseries, we must also be advised of other important matters facing the agriculture sector, food and beverage industry, trade relations, and the people of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.

Please contact 683-1173 for any further information.

Additional Notes

• The Gleaner - First Weekly Banana Shipment To Trinidad Leaves Jamaica Today - http://jamaica-gleaner.com/…/first-weekly-banana-shipment-t…

• The Gleaner - Trinidad Increases Jamaican Bananas Order - http://jamaica-gleaner.com/…/trinidad-increases-jamaican-ba…

• The Gleaner - Bananas Break Into Trinidad Market - http://jamaica-gleaner.com/…/…/bananas-break-trinidad-market
Comments