Businessman calls for probe of Tobago agribusiness company

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Members of the team Woodford Square of the Division of Health Wellness and Family Development prepare stewed chicken at Tadco’s Men can Cook Competition at Shaw Park Food Hub on April 17. – David Reid

Businessman Max James is calling for an investigation into the Tobago Agribusiness Development Company (Tadco) board.

Speaking during Tuesday’s THA town hall meeting at the Calder Hall Multipurpose Facility, James said the Tadco experience is not working. James said he believed there was dishonesty involved and did not feel the board was doing a good job.

Tadco is a special-purpose company formed in 2020 under the purview of the THA Division of Food Security, Natural Resources, the Environment and Sustainable Development. The company is an amalgamation of three state entities under the Assembly – the Fish Processing Company of Tobago Ltd, Tobago Cold Storage & Warehouse Facility Ltd and Tobago Cassava Production Ltd. The merger was deemed critical to the agricultural sector as it reduced duplication of efforts and created opportunities for synergies, efficiencies and effective management and development of the sector. Tadco’s mission is to maximise the utilisation of Tobago’s agricultural assets to increase its food security and export earnings through public-private partnerships, technology and effective value-chain management.

James complained: “It cannot be that you’re operating a board that is pauperising people.”

He said a government needs to provide four food items for its people – meats, rice, flour and legumes/peas.

“We need to subsidise them in some way or the other. It cannot be where a baker has to pay close to $400 for a bag of flour, or you have to pay so much for your peas and your chicken, so while the farmers and poultry farmers are making a killing on the NUVO farm experiment, the housewife here have to pay too much money.”

He added: “When we say food security, we need to mitigate that.”

In response, Chief Secretary Farley Augustine said food inflation increased by 17 per cent, as inflation globally is rising, estimating that by tear-end, food inflation would increase even further. He said there is some merit in investigating how that can be mitigated, adding that a middle ground must be found.

“Perhaps one of the things we can look at is having some differential in terms of what you pay as a small business owner versus what a household pays. You are trying to convert the same raw product into food, into something that someone can buy and eat right away, and you naturally will have to pass on those costs to the consumer.”

He said it might be possible to offer a subsidy to commercial customers, who buy in greater quantities, and they could pass on that subsidy to the consumer.

“I will investigate, as you suggest I do, those issues that you’ve raised in terms of how well this sector is doing and what it means (for) the pockets of the average user.”