People have a role to play in regional food security

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley operates a coffee grinder on display the the Agri-Investment Forum and Expo at Queen’s Park Savannah, Port of Spain on Friday. – SUREASH CHOLAI

VISHANNA PHAGOO

Public Utilities Minister Marvin Gonzales and technocrats from Caricom countries underscored the importance of agriculture, and what they expect of people in the region to in its efforts to achieve food security.

Gonzales said his ministry was essential to Trinidad and Tobago’s economic development as it provides water and electricity. He was speaking at the Agri-Investment Forum and Expo at Queen’s Park Savannah, Port of Spain, on Friday, where the expo takes place until 10 pm on Sunday.

“So what we are seeing here…, the vast display, the great innovation and thrust of development in our agricultural sector cannot be done if the Ministry of Public Utilities doesn’t have the policy of the government where public utilities are concerned. It cannot happen because we have to ensure we have sufficient water to irrigate our crops, we have to ensure that power is put on our farms.”

He said there are many farmers in TT, and possibly the entire region, who operate outside the electricity grid. Gonzales said the ministry plans to place solar panels at farms so they have access to power.

“Even though they are not integrated into the electricity world, they can now have access to solar power to power their farms.”

In addition to solar panels, Gonzales said the ministry will use its modular water treatment plants to boost the water supply.

Ariaponics manager Alex Jones shows the lettuce grown using his hydroponics system at the Agri-Invesment Forum and Expo, Queen’s Park Savannah, Port of Spain on Friday. – VISHANNA PHAGOO

“There are many ground and surface water that we have not harvested, and a number of rural communities do not have access to water, and with the use of modular water treatment plants we are going to bring to TT, we are going to target the rural communities because they have access to rivers and water wells. So, we are going to get the water treated by those plants because they can be easily and strategically placed around the communities.”

He said this will provide water in homes and farms that will result in more locally-sourced foods.

He said those interested in getting power supply can apply to the ministry’s electrification and solar electrification programmes. The cost is between $50,000 and $60,000 to provide power to their homes or farms.

Meanwhile, at the National Academy for the Performing Arts, Caricom technocrats discussed the need to promote healthy eating, the benefits of incorporating technology into agriculture, financing for small and medium farms and how to boost trade and investments in the region.

Shaun Baugh, programme manager of agricultural and agro-industrial development of Guyana, said there are many ongoing projects, some of which include de-risking of the regional agriculture sector, regional insurance, looking at alternative sources of financing and the removal of tariff barriers.

Also speaking at the food and nutrition panel, co-founder and director of Empower Nutrition Ltd Mweia Elias said nutrition is overlooked when it comes to discussing food security.

“There is no conversation about food security without nutrition security,” she said.

Elias said covid19 discussions have overshadowed that of chronic illnesses, and said at least 60 per cent of TT’s population suffers from over-nutrition. She said many patients express a love-hate relationship with flour and said there must be more options that are easily accessible.

Manager of Ariaponics Alex Jones said all of their produce is grown using hydroponics and a solar power system. – VISHANNA PHAGOO

During the agriculture, finance and marketing panel, Karen Yip Chuck, general manger, commercial and retail banking of Republic Bank Ltd (RBL), said the bank has committed GYD$2 billion (TT$64.9 million) to help micro-projects blossom to large scale in the country.

“RBL can provide the financing but it may not be accessible to the people who need it if they do not have business cases, they need to show performer financials – what their cash flow is.”

She said TT has the Agricultural Development Bank (ADB), but other countries in the region may not hence RBL’s commitment to the cause.

ADB chairman Sekou Mark said 25 per cent of the 650 loans the ADB issues annually were to young entrepreneurs.

After the the forum, there was the signing of a memorandum of understanding with the Caricom Private Sector Organisations, Caribbean Supermarket Association, Manufacturers’ Association and Agri-Business Association, and the signing of the declaration by the Prime Minister and Caricom Private Sector.

At the expo, Dr Rowley and other delegates toured the booths. Each booth had representatives of from companies such as Ariaponics and Trintrac, as well as the Ministry of Agriculture, Land and Fisheries and the Agricultural Society of TT. Representatives explained the benefits, challenges and solutions that come with farming.

At the Ariaponics booth, manager Alex Jones showed how large and crisp lettuce and chadon beni grew with the help of the nutrition being circulated into the hydroponic system, and said the entire process operates with solar power. He said the lettuce only takes a little over 30 days before they are ready for consumption.