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posted 26 Mar 2010, 16:08 by Gerry Kangalee
Farmers are the salt of the earth, it is said. They are hard working and stoic in the face of the vagaries of Man and Nature. For decades, their efforts, together with those of many experts such as the late Prof. George Moonsammy, trade unionists, and activists, to lobby the Government of Trinidad and Tobago (GORTT) to pay attention to agriculture, have been largely unsuccessful.

Global agencies, NGOs, technical experts and Farmers’ Associations, among others, have been sounding the warning about food security and the impending water crisis. The voice of the NFFA is among those. NFFA calls on the management of WASA, the Ministries of Agriculture and Public Utilities, to treat these matters as development priorities, given the impacts on all citizens, not only farmers.

Indeed, farmers are fully aware that some climate impacts are not within the direct control of the GORTT, but, since we have been speaking out about changing weather patterns, shouldn’t the GORTT be even more informed and prepared, given their resources? Many international agencies consider water to be the new oil. Many global conflicts on contiguous lands have been caused by the questions about water rights. Water is now big (over $200BUS) business for multinationals such as Coke, Nestlé, Pepsi, Bouygues/SAUR, Vivendi, Suez, among others. The NFFA is keeping watch on these companies.

We realise that the GORTT, especially the Prime Minister, and the Board and Management of WASA are not connecting the dots in terms of water, farming and food security for citizens. They have not been listening to the NFFA’s and other calls for a proper water management system, to be developed in collaboration with stakeholders, including farmers.

If WASA had sought input from farmers for its short-term water crisis management plan, there would not have been that ridiculous directive from its management to charge farmers for water taken from rivers, downstream of their treatment plants and reservoirs. For example, farmers use water from the North Oropouche, Caroni, Cunupia and Tacarigua and other rivers just before they flow into the sea. This has no impact on WASA’s supply. It is indeed a shameful situation when the relevant Ministries of Public Utilities, Agriculture and Consumer Affairs, and WASA act in the interest of food security only upon advocacy by the leadership of the NFFA and other farmers’ groups.

The failure to use foresight in the planning process by WASA and the PNM Government has resulted in this current water and therefore looming food security crisis. This failure and the general neglect of agriculture meant that enough small dams, reservoirs, retention ponds, irrigation facilities have not been established. In addition, there are other activities which support water conservation.

Some of these include the protection of and an end to quarrying in water catchment areas, the increased use of semi-potable water for industry, and an ongoing public education programme. A change to an efficient management system at WASA is also a critical priority. For a few years, we were inundated with heavy rains which resulted in widespread flooding. What is WASA’s plan for stormwater capture and rainfall harvesting? Given all this, how can this uncaring government talk about a food production and security plan under Vision 20/20, when they have no vision? This is an incredibly failing PNM Government which cannot get even the basics right.

The NFFA calls on WASA and the Government to find some other mechanism, through discussion with farmers, to ensure and monitor access to water by this community. Farmers work from before dawn to late evening managing their crops and animals and have no time to go to offices to apply for a licence. Farmers stand united on this issue.