Canada partners with Santa Rosa First Peoples for cassava production

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Santa Rosa First Peoples Chief Ricardo Bharath Hernandez offers cassava flour as an alternative to wheat flour during the observance of Commonwealth Day at the Green Market, Santa Cruz on Saturday. – PHOTO BY ROGER JACOB

The Canadian High Commission has partnered the Santa Rosa First Peoples Community to promote and develop their indigenous agri-food products.

The project started about a year ago, and according to Canada’s High Commissioner to TT Kumar Gupta, almost Can$40,000 has already been invested.

He spoke with Sunday Newsday at the Commonwealth Day 2022 event held at the Green Market in Santa Cruz on Saturday.

He said the project was an effort to push for food security in which it has had input and collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture, Land and Fisheries.

The Canadian High Commission is providing technical assistance through the group AgriFirst Canada. It involves business planning, food safety, packaging, labelling, marketing, promotion and distribution.

Gupta said, “They are growing cassava and they’d like to take the cassava to market. So, that last bit of the equation of packaging and marketing — that’s particularly what we are working on.”

He said with the current global trends, now more than ever food security has become critical for every country and especially indigenous communities.

“We know that they (indigenous communities) are a vulnerable population, and we want to work with them. This happens to be a women’s group, so for us, that is an intersectionality of vulnerability, so it is very important to continue this work,” Gupta.

The goal of the project was to assist the Santa Rosa First Peoples to establish a viable and self-sustaining agricultural enterprise.

Chief of the Santa Rosa First Peoples Ricardo Bharath Hernandez told Sunday Newsday that after discussions with Gupta, it was agreed that cassava was a main staple in which development and investments should be made.

He said they were thrilled for the investment and the knowledge to further their work in the agricultural sector.

“The first part of the project included surveys, interviews and so on, the second part will be training in different areas that will impact overall on this project and the other phase hopefully, will be in assistance with the facilities and equipment are there to do the production,” Hernandez said.

He agreed with Gupta that the current market trends in the oil and gas sector brought on by the Russia-Ukraine war was adequate reason to aggressively pursue local food production.

“Cassava is one of our sustainable foods and we should try to utilise it in all ways possible for our sustenance. This project and local produce are very important for small islands.

“Wheat is not our thing; God didn’t give us wheat in this part of the world, yet we import so much wheat from other countries. If we can develop our cassava products like flour, it can be a substitute for wheat, if it reaches the point where we can’t get that commodity anymore,” Hernandez explained.

He pointed out that local food production needed to be taken seriously not just by the farmers, but more investments from Government and other stakeholders including the private sector were required.

On March 4, the United Nations reported a drastic increase in the food price index and head of the International Fund for Agricultural Development Gilbert Houngbo said continuation of the war will be catastrophic for the entire world.

He said, “The fighting could limit the world’s supply of staple crops like wheat, corn and sunflower oil, resulting in skyrocketing food prices and hunger. This could jeopardise global food security and heighten geopolitical tensions.”

Locally, state-owned National Flour Mills (NFM) has warned that flour prices could be increase again, after the international price for wheat last week raised by 53 per cent.