Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : January 5th 2017 Contents JANUARY 5 • 2017 guardian.co.tt BUSINESS GUARDIAN
NEWS | BG7
The Government needs to do more to increase
agriculture's contribution to the T&T's econo-
my in 2017, said agricultural economist Omar-
"Real gross domestic product (GDP) growth
in agriculture in 2015 was 1.2 per cent after over
a decade of tumultuous growth and contractionary responses.
Between 2010 and 2015, agriculture's contribution to GDP at
market prices stagnated at 0.5 per cent. The statistics shows
that the sector is 'flat lining' or just getting by at the moment
in terms of its contribution to GDP vis-à-vis other produc-
tive sectors. But, if we position the conversation in terms of
what consumes foreign exchange and which sectors have the
immediate potential to save and generate, then agriculture
is still in the running," he told the Business Guardian in an
interview on Monday.
He said agriculture's overall contribution to GDP is around
0.5 per cent.
Maharaj is an agriculture consultant at the consultancy firm,
i ThiNK Global Consulting Services and a former adviser to
the Ministry of Food Production in 2012.
He said for decades there has been no serious analysis of
the agriculture sector in T&T.
"After expending billions on the sector since independence---
or even more recently between 2000-2015 where this bit of
data is focused---we still do not know what we produce, where
it is produced or how and when it comes to market. What are
the prevailing circumstances of our produce and how do these
factors compare with their counterparts abroad?" he asked.
Referring to the previous administration's Medium Term
Policy Framework (2011-2014) for Agriculture and Food Se-
curity, he said there was a failure to meet the policy's stated
"There has been a failure to achieve the objectives set out in
the framework (2011-2014) for agriculture and food security:
reduce the food import bill, the target was 10 per cent annu-
ally. Also to reduce the rate of food inflation and sustain it
within single digits; create sustainable, long-term productive
employment in the sector to support a national unemploy-
ment level that is under seven per cent; increase the sector's
contribution to GDP (target was three per cent by 2014) and
create a food secure nation," he said.
Food import bill
He said T&T's annual food import bill is now at $6 billion
and the current economic decline of the country only worsens
Maharaj gave some practical examples of how the food import
bill could be reduced.
"According to the United Nations ComTrade database,
T&T would have imported approximately TT$1.25 billion in
HS 0406---cheese and curd of varying forms between 2011 and
2015. I held two cheese-making classes (ricotta, goat, paneer)
last year to simply challenge the local food system to satisfy
individual food and nutrition requirements as well as taste and
preferences at an affordable price. I was able to encourage food
innovation and creativeness as participants wanted to retain
their appetite for international cuisine but debunk the taboo
of salads, smoothies and ground provisions as being the only
local foods. Substitutes for imports were not only identified
but put to the test."
Maharaj said over the past five years T&T has spent over
an estimated TT$ 1 billion to import food and bottles to feed
babies born in that period.
According to the United Nations Comtrade Database, HS
190110---cereals, flour, starch/milk for infant use, resulted in
retail sales of US$ 88 million or TT$ 572,494,000.
"A dependence and training of tastes and preferences for
imported food from birth is inextricably linked to the cur-
rent difficulty in weaning children, youths and the working
class population off the need to satisfy a westernised diet.
The issue of a burgeoning food import bill is, therefore, more
chronic and requires a deeper approach than is currently used
to support local."
He also referred to peas and beans which can be grown locally.
According to UN Comtrade statistics, between 2013-2015
T&T imported over $115 million or 33, 461 tonnes in some peas
and beans (dried forms) alone.
"Within a home-gardening scenario, several peas and beans
have proven to be successful. Though not originating in T&T,
expanded local production of these can bring about greater
local biological diversity while allowing consumers to retain
their tastes and preferences through creative import substi-
" Acknowledging that further feasibility studies are needed,
it remains a fact that a large percentage of the T&T diet is ded-
icated to legumes or pulses. We must encourage greater local
content to preserve food and nutrition security so that healthy
and affordable food is available to the population at all times."
He said all of this is worsened by the current economic re-
"Being import-dependent with a burgeoning annual food
import bill of approximately $6 billion, declining foreign ex-
change reserves and increasing pressure on exchange rates,
and widening current account and fiscal deficits; we must
focus on our food independence sooner than later.
"In addition to agriculture sector policy and targets, greater
emphasis must be placed on actions that citizens can take
for themselves, at home or in public spaces, which brings the
greatest return within our environment; both economic and
ecological. The outcome of which, possibly not anticipated
by some, will be irreversible."
Re-organising agriculture groups
Maharaj has called for a restructuring not only of the Ministry
of Agriculture but also other organisations that are involved
in the sector.
"There is no clarity on the relationship between the Ag-
ricultural Society of T&T (ASTT) and the line ministry. For
years there have been alleged unresolved management issues,
strained relationships and a withholding of financial support
for their operations.
"We do not have a coherent national policy framework for
sustainable agriculture and rural development.
"Without sustainable projects and programmes, targets,
deliverables and key performance indicators we do not have
a methodology to determine our investment needs or where
our country should position its food supply notwithstanding
a political term in office."
He said the almost $800 million allocated to the Ministry
of Agriculture for the 2017 fiscal year only covers the basics.
"The budget allocation also sends a signal of the sector's
priority on the national development agenda. The alleged un-
responsiveness of the administrators to the needs of the sector
puts further strain on the stakeholders' perception when they
understand that the majority of the $800 million allocation
goes towards recurrent expenditure: salaries, wages, vehicles,
air-conditioned offices and not the development programme."
Being import-dependent with a
burgeoning annual food import bill
of approximately $6 billion, declining
foreign exchange reserves and increasing
pressure on exchange rates, and
widening current account and fiscal
deficits; we must focus on our food
independence sooner than later.
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