THE relatively rare heartening news out of the agriculture sector is a moment to cheer. As of now, green market shoppers are filling their baskets and enjoying prices far lower than were available after the last rainy season’s severe storms that devastated not only homes but also farmers’ garden plots, livestock, crops and equipment.
As one shopper told Express reporter Leah Sorias last week, “This is the cheapest I have seen prices in a long time. I should probably knock on wood.” It is not luck or good fortune, however, which affords the opportunity for shoppers to see their market money go a longer way. Agriculture, as a sector, has been blighted by lack of will and falling production as lands, such as those at the Government’s St Joseph acreage once devoted to food cropping, are controversially designated for conversion into housing accommodation.
Agriculture Minister Clarence Rambharat, whose portfolio receives the smallest portion of the annual national budget, seldom permits himself expressions of optimism as he confronts prospects not only of diminished activity but also of what often looks like political and national indifference. Standing among examples of botched will and dedicated indifference in this sector is the buffalypso, once a veterinary developmental success story bringing pride and joy to local livestock farming, now reduced to herds of doubtful acceptability, running wild in the southern bushes. Meanwhile, in Cuba, buffalypso developed on the Trinidad and Tobago model flourish in good health and productivity.
Little or nothing remains to show for the efforts by the late sugar producer Caroni (1975) Ltd to diversify into food crop production. Former prime minister Patrick Manning’s mega-farm vision blurred in a just a few short years while a People’s Partnership announcement of deals with Guyana to utilise land there for farming by our nationals was never realised.
Meanwhile, pirogue fishing to supply markets has been hit by significantly higher fuel prices and, lately, by the predatory attacks of Venezuelan pirates and kidnappers. For all the agriculture areas in which production has declined or disappeared, imports are relied on to the extent, it seems, that much food crop production is effectively outsourced to nearby Grenada and St Vincent. And the plight of rice farmers was recently exposed before a parliamentary Joint Select Committee.
Such is the measure of being thankful for small mercies that Sahara dust, dreaded for its effects on those with respiratory challenges, is welcomed for its provision of chemical elements capable of enhancing soil quality.
It is to the credit of those farmers who, defying last October’s floods, have bounced back with produce so abundant as to be sellable cheaper than usual. In acknowledging the resilience of farmers and the temporary relief for consumers, we note the sad but familiar reality that Tobago is reported not to be benefiting from the newly attractive prices in Trinidad green markets.