People under pressure to plant!

By raising the importance of our food and agriculture on the national development agenda, it would signal to those paid by the public purse that more must be done in the circumstances facing this country.

For several years we listened, watched and advocated for food security planning in the face of an economic slide in Trinidad and Tobago as we endured years of underinvestment and failed policy in the agriculture sector. We pushed for greater public education and awareness but now we need to act on the advocacy and advice of our farmers, fishers, small and micro-entrepreneurs and children that are in the thousands in this sector and across the country.

On Sunday the Yard Market celebrated The International Year of Fruits and Vegetables 2021, as declared by the UN General Assembly, because it aims at raising awareness of, directing policy attention to, and sharing good practices on the nutritional and health benefits of fruit and vegetable consumption, the contribution of fruit and vegetable consumption to the promotion of diversified, balanced and healthy diets and lifestyles, and reducing loss and waste of fruits and vegetables.

In September 2020, the Yard Market’s public education and awareness activities were recognised by the United Nations on its first ever International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste.

Promoted as a family farmers’ market, we support self-sufficiency in household food production and an inclusive entrepreneurship hub for hand-made products, home-grown foods and other forms of social entrepreneurship. The concept connects like-minded people interested in empowerment, education and the positive attributes of building an eco-system of families supporting each other especially in terms of their food.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations notes that “up to one third of all food is spoiled or squandered before it is consumed by people. It is an excess in an age where almost a billion people go hungry, and represents a waste of the labour, water, energy, land and other inputs that went into producing that food.” There is no room for food loss and waste in this time of crisis.

The Covid-19 pandemic is a wake-up call to rethink the way in which we produce, handle and waste our food. We need to have a serious rethink of development policy and planning in agriculture. In order to systematically reduce our reliance on foreign food products and bolster our own capacity, there must be a fundamental shift in the sector’s priority.

As I have said for the last few years, in the current and anticipated economic circumstances facing Trinidad and Tobago, we cannot deny the fact that the cost of living and economic hardship is on the rise. Even now, there is fairly significant uncertainty about the future given rising unemployment, crime, social displacement, rumours of job cuts in the public service, and private sector business shrinkage. Higher food prices, increasing praedial larceny and piracy, weakened access and availability, less imported volume and local production and foreign exchange pressure may put food and nutrition security out of the hands of men, women, boys and girls who need it the most.

These are compounded by the perennial problems in agriculture which have eluded our policymakers over the years. Most recently, while the experts have proffered that the loss of forest cover through unregulated land use, seeking to point fingers at rogue squatters, had caused the proliferation of locust invasions in the south-eastern region. They missed the mark.

None of them discussed whether the heavy engineering and earthworks for the $90 million “agro-processing facility” in Moruga (bordering on the forest) had any impact on what we see today. The lighting and noise from the facility may continue to interfere with the natural environment which may cause larger swarms and migration of locusts and other species of animals into the communities and region causing further devastation to food production, residential discomfort, loss of income and possible public health issues.

It is therefore a necessity for policymakers to do more towards preserving food and nutrition security at the household level, protect and strengthen the men and women who work to feed the nation and, to act aggressively to stabilise sentiment and build consensus on the way forward.

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