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COPING STRATEGIES FOR AGRICULTURE by Omardath Maharaj

posted 27 Jun 2017, 17:54 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 27 Jun 2017, 17:56 ]
Omardath Maharaj
A breadth of coping strategies is necessary in the short-term but we must focus on building the resilience of farming and fishing communities to strengthen their adaptive capacity and reduce their vulnerability to exogenous issues such as climate change, but importantly to give them a voice in governance.

This is becoming increasingly important as millions of dollars in damages to rural infrastructure, agricultural production, communities and livelihoods are recorded across Trinidad with the passage of Tropical Storm Bret, threatening national food security.

On June 20th I networked with farmers and fishers across the country to express solidarity but to also gauge the extent of damages. Having said publicly and repeatedly over the years that "we need to know where our food comes from, how it is produced and to understand the circumstances of the men and women who feed us”, we can now observe that supermarket shelves are empty from panic-buying, some revenues higher from price-gouging but farmers and fishers are not always lucky to secure their livelihoods.

Flood Damage to Food Production

For World Food Day 2016 and more recently for World Environment Day 2017, I made the point that climate change continues to affect local food production in several ways. The duration and intensity of our seasons are changing among other challenges and opportunities. Acknowledging and respecting the circumstances of rural and coastal communities and targeting limited resources in an optimal manner must be seen as reciprocal in the struggle for national food and nutrition security.

In agricultural production, for example, farmers grapple with dry spells and floods. Their capacity to respond is often times constrained as that response incurs a cost, relying on the State for relief. Fisherfolk and tourism stakeholders are also witnessing warmer oceans which affect weather patterns, cause more powerful tropical storms, and can impact many kinds of sea life, such as fishes and corals, from which they obtain a livelihood.

We need to look at building the resilience of farming and fishing communities to strengthen their adaptive capacity and reduce their vulnerability.

Stakeholder concern heightens

In the aftermath of Tropical Storm Bret the damage seems to be fairly significant in the major food crop projects; from south and east Trinidad, to Aranguez and communities such as Brasso Seco. Orange Grove is speculatively reporting that the Caroni River burst its banks. High tide in the Gulf will also slow and prevent water run-off, compromising communities and food production. The livelihoods of our farmers and fishers, who cannot and should not venture out to sea, are threatened.

On the consumer end, we can expect the market to be soft as people rush to harvest or salvage what was possible but will be a bit tough in the coming weeks and months until production recovers and stabilizes across the country.

We have to also be mindful of any price-gouging and those seeking to extract all consumer surpluses. Supporting pricing behaviour, contrary to reality, neither carries value back to agricultural communities and farming families nor does it raise respect for the industry. This, again, justifies the security that home gardens and other non-traditional forms of food production can offer; at least to stabilize food and nutrition security at the household level. 

Any effort going forward by the relevant Authorities, Ministries and Regional Corporations should be supported with the needed sensitivity and urgency in the public interest. In the short-run as income falls for farming, fishing and vulnerable communities across the country, policy-makers and administrators need to ensure that the social safety nets are responsive, that persons of differing socio-economic circumstances do not fall below the minimum living standard and that any such measure is not abused.

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