PM promises $ for farmers hit by floods

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

A farmer’s field in Penal remains under water on Friday after recent flooding. –

Financial assistance to farmers who qualify will be given to them as soon as possible so they could begin replanting after the destruction of crops by recent flooding, the Prime Minister has assured.

Dr Rowley made the statement on Friday in response to the PM’s questions in Parliament about the expected increase in food prices due to crop losses, saying he expected the prices in the markets to be reasonable.

“What we anticipate is that we will take every step possible to restart the agricultural production after, and we expect those who have not been flooded out will not take the opportunity to price gouge as the shortage occurs in the situation where some farmers have lost their crops.”

Asked if those affected by recent heavy rainfall would be compensated for their losses with the US$5.84 million or TT$39.42 million the government received from the Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility, he said the money would be placed in the Consolidated Fund.

“The money is not targeted to give individuals because the government spends money, whether or not it comes from this insurance source. And therefore, the insurance money will come back into the consolidated fund as the government continues to spend, without limit…

“So whatever relief is to be provided to citizens will be provided from the consolidated fund through the various ministries. This insurance is simply a matter of the government getting back some money for what it would have spent in this instance.”

He said the government had been providing targeted support as the country’s economic circumstances allow.

Multiple agencies including the Defence Force, the disaster management units of the 14 municipal corps, SWMCOL and various ministries such as Works and Transport, Public Utilities, and Agriculture Land and Fisheries were instructed by the PM to provide relevant relief to citizens.

Citizens were also assisted by temporary food relief, disaster assistance grants when they qualify, and advisories on the state of water courses.

He said the government had also taken steps to minimise the impact of rising food prices by VAT removal on many items in 2021 including salted and canned fish, cheddar cheese, frozen french fries, refined sugar, corned beef, soy beans, and cooking oils.

Agricultural Society of TT president Daryl Rampersad and member Suren Ramkissoon gather crates of seedlings for distribution to farmers affected by recent floods. – Photo courtesy Agricultural Society

“There has also been a suspension of the common external tariff, the CET, and the government has pursued this matter and a list of over 20 basic food items. These items were approved on the level of Caricom in accordance with Article 83(3) of the revised Treaty of Chaguaramas and implemented at the national level for the period January 1, 2021 to December 21, 2022.”

Asked if the government intended to remove VAT on the 7,000 food items the People’s Partnership government marked as zero-rated during its tenure, Rowley gave an emphatic no.

“The government does not intend to do that because in that 7,000 were a large number of what is considered unessential luxury items which were benefiting from a reduction in VAT.

“We see no benefit on the country reducing VAT to increase the import of luxury, unessential items. That is the action of a populace irresponsible government and that government is not in office today.”

He added that government had ensured the EximBank is well-funded so no excessive costs would be applied to manufacturers because of an unavailability of foreign exchange. He said US$1.2 billion was available to manufacturers and importers of essential goods to facilitate the financing of food.

“And of course we have taken steps to increase local fresh food production and encourage the consumption of such local fresh foods.”

National Agricultural Marketing and Development Corporation (Namdevco) CEO Nirmalla Debysingh told Sunday Newsday she could not comment on any estimated losses, prices increases, or shortages at this time because the company was in the process of reviewing data.

However, she said, “The government has offered a lot of incentive programmes and grants for farmers to utilise production systems that could mitigate against adverse weather patterns. In addition, there are many external stakeholder companies who are teaching farmers about climate change and introducing them to new practices.”

Namdevco and the Ministry of Health were also encouraging farmers not to eat or sell crops after flooding to reduce the chances of contracting leptospirosis, which is contracted from the urine of infected rats and cattle, or contaminated water. The bacteria can not be “washed off” and could survive in soil, water or food for weeks.

“It is a food waste but it can be made into compost, the seeds could be used for replanting, or something that could be otherwise utilised,” Debysingh said.

“Farmers are advised to get rid of those crops because the last thing you want is a sick population that can not eat. And you don’t want to have people becoming sick because they ate your food. Chances are they would not want to buy from you again.”

Symptoms could include fever, headache, muscle ache, jaundice, vomiting, diarrhea and skin rash. More serious symptoms could include chest pain as well as swollen arms and legs.

She said there may be signs of stress on the produce but it was very difficult to tell if crops had been in flood water.

In the meanwhile, over the next four weeks, the Agricultural Society of TT and the Ministry of Agriculture will give away over 30,000 seedlings to 100 farmers devastated by floods, Giant African snails and locusts. Farmers from across the country would also receive hampers with insecticides, fungicides and fertilisers.

The seedlings included sweet pepper, tomato, cucumber, ochro, lettuce, patchoi and hot peppers. And the farmers identified as most in need were from Wallerfield and Cumuto, Macoya, Bon Air, Sangre Grande, Matura, Kernahan, Mayaro and Moruga.