South Agri Expo

The South Agri Expo begins today and continues to Sunday at Gulf City Shopping Complex, in San Fernando.

WITH the continuous increase in food prices, which is likely to keep trending upwards for the rest of the year, Southex Trade Shows and Promotions along with other stakeholders will be hosting an agriculture and food expo, to help place greater emphasis on the agriculture sector.

In an interview with the Express Business over the weekend, chief executive officer of Southex, George Singh said he partnered with the Trinidad and Tobago and Georgetown Chambers of Industry and Commerce, as well as the Supermarket Association of TT (SATT) to make the expo a reality. It will run from today to Sunday, at Gulf City Shopping Complex, in San Fernando.

Singh said the event has actually been six years in the making, as it was back in 2016 that the stakeholders sat in meetings with the Ministry of Agriculture to plan an agricultural expo.

“For one reason or another, the event did not happen. However, being involved in these meetings piqued my interest in the industry. I never realised how big this industry was and how complex with so many different subsectors.

“Covid set us back another 2½ years, but coming down to the end of 2021, I started the planning process again and here we are. Agriculture has always been played down in T&T, with the energy industries always taking the forefront,” Singh said.

He noted that with Covid-19 and more so the war in Ukraine affecting supply chains, it became evident the Caribbean needs to find sustainable ways to grow and produce its own food.

“It is our hope that this Agri Expo, which will be held annually, will be the spark that ignites and motivates the sector. I believe that all the partners involved, the Supermarket Association plays an important role in the agricultural sector, so they were happy to be part of this from the onset.”

Singh highlighted that the Trinidad and Tobago Chamber of Industry and Commerce recognises the importance of the agriculture sector and the potential for growth in the sector and the Chamber’s mandate has always been about promoting good business, so they were very excited about getting involved.

Asked about the cost of producing an expo such as this, with 40 booths, he said an event of this nature costs hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“We expect this event to grow exponentially and it could cost in excess of $3 million to $4 million by the third year. The Government, it seems, has already started putting greater emphasis on the sector. It is our hope that the introduction of this event and events similar in nature will help the sector.”

Singh believes more engagement with the agriculture professionals, farmers, and agro producers is needed.

“Government needs to invest heavily in the sector over the next five years. They need to create incentives through funding or education that are easy to access and available to everyone from small to large farmers. Educating the farmers on international best practices, and modern technology will also help to get the industry moving fast,” he emphasised.

Asked whether the Agri expo will also become a regional event in the Caribbean, the Southex CEO said that is the intention.

“There have been a lot of talks between Guyana and Trinidad with regards to agriculture. The fact that the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry has partnered with the event shows the will to make things happen and to have a meaningful interaction between the two countries.

As it pertains to the response by the agriculture sector to be part of the expo, Singh said it has been very good, all things considered, and getting it started this year was the most important goal.

“We had to establish a starting point from where we could grow. There will be about 40 booths at the expo, and we have 40 farmers at the Farmers’ Market on Sunday,” Singh said.

He stressed that it has been more than 20 years that a proper agricultural expo has not been held in Trinidad and Tobago, so it is long overdue and with this event being done annually now, the sector will have an event that they can prepare for, and look forward to, every year.

“We hope that this will motivate the farmers and by extension the sector. While our event can be considered small this year, we have got it started, and we expect it to double in size by 2023. People can expect to see new features added to this event every year. Our goal is to make this the most important annual agricultural event in the Caribbean. Our partners share our vision and have given us their support,” Singh added.

Also speaking about the expo was Supermarket Association of Trinidad and Tobago (SATT) president Rajiv Diptee, who said the expo could be a gateway into import substitution and even earning more foreign exchange.

“What we are seeing now is the cost of fuel, containers, shipping and foods we fetch from foreign principals has gotten to almost an inflection point in crisis levels. Which is why we are looking within the region like Guyana (and) our neighbouring islands as potential avenues for agriculture,” said Diptee.

He said when Southex came to SATT about the expo, the association jumped at the idea as it has always been something the association wanted to execute.

He said this country is heavily dependent on imports, so where a local substitution can be found, it should be utilised and showcased at forums such as this expo.

“Even though the alternatives exist in T&T, you do need to create awareness within the population, for them to know about it and understand.”

Diptee highlighted that Caricom leaders have to continue to have meaningful discussions and allow the agriculture trade between the region to happen seamlessly, in a bid for everyone’s food bill to exponentially decrease.

The SATT president also added that it would be participating in the Government’s Agri-Investment and Expo from August 19-21 at the Queen’s Park Savannah in Port of Spain.

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