Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : February 2nd 2017 Contents FEBRUARY 2 • 2017 guardian.co.tt BUSINESS GUARDIAN
COMMENTARY | BG17
Quest for food security
There is always much talk of
"feeding the nation," or as it
is also described, "having food
We can think of food securi-
ty at the level of the individual
citizen or food security for the country. At both
levels, the sources of food will be this country
or other countries.
At the level of the individual, there will be
those items that are purchased from groceries,
markets or direct from the farmer or those that
are grown in home gardens or in allotments
(provided by the local or central government).
At the country level, there will be those
items that are grown within the country or
those which are imported from abroad. Im-
ported items may be sourced within Caricom
or purchased from worldwide sources. There
arises the issue of the availability of food on
the world market and within Caricom and the
cost of such food.
At both the country and the individual level
(apart from home gardening in the latter case)
the ability to pay for the food is as important
as its availability. In the case of the country,
the availability of foreign exchange is critical.
So, any discussion on feeding the nation
must take into account:
1. Ability to grow food in this country and
cost of production
2. World and Caricom food supply and prices
3. Availability of foreign exchange, and
4. Household incomes.
This country has a long history of excel-
lence in agriculture. It is famous for its fine
cocoa which goes back to the 18th century.
With respect to research and training of ag-
riculturalists, early in the 20th century, the
British Government established the Imperial
College of Tropical Agriculture (ICTA) in Trin-
idad as a training and research centre for the
The initial programmes at ICTA were on
export crops; some of which Britain wanted
as raw material for further processing-cocoa,
bananas, sugarcane, cotton and so on. Impor-
tant research on the soils of the Caribbean was
also carried out and ICTA became an important
centre for knowledge on tropical soils.
In the 1950s, programmes of research were
established on local crops such as pigeon peas,
sweet potato, yams and cassava. In the early
1960s the British gave ICTA to the University
of the West Indies (UWI) when it became the
Faculty of Agriculture at the newly established
campus at St Augustine.
While the world-wide reputation for first-
class research has been maintained for cocoa,
the same cannot be said for other tropical
Agricultural production in the 20th century
was mainly on export crops with the major
production being on relatively large plantations
(sugarcane, cocoa and citrus). Smaller farms
also contributed in some measure to the export
crops but they provided the main production
of locally consumed food crops-vegetables and
Up to the 1970s the earnings from the export
crops were more or less equal to the food im-
port bill. From that time to today production
of the export commodities declined to a small
fraction of former production, we in fact now
import several products that we formerly pro-
duced for local consumption and export, such
as citrus, coconut and sugarcane.
With an ever increasing world population
and changing weather patterns the food supply
from international sources will see rising prices
and periodic shortages. If we plan within Car-
icom we may be able to address this problem.
Food security requires careful planning. We
need to set out the items in the various food
categories which are now imported-starch-
es, vegetables, fruit, meat, fish, etc. Then we
must, with technical considerations, decide
which items we can produce locally or/and
which items we can substitute with a locally
For example, we cannot grow wheat but we
can substitute 25 per cent of the wheat flour
in our bread by flour from locally grown root
crops. Having assessed what we want to pro-
duce locally, we must then assess how much
land will be needed to meet the targets we set.
We must assess if the land will need ame-
lioration and if we are able to supply this eco-
nomically. Management of our clay soils will
be an important issue in this regard.
We must decide on a suitable farm size to
produce commodities at an acceptable cost.
If this is done, we may not be able to supply
all our food needs, but we may be able to make
a significant dent in our ever-growing food
We must therefore look at feeding the nation
in terms of the need to import some food items.
The first assessment of imports should be made
of the possibility of sourcing these items from
Caricom countries such as Guyana, Belize, and
Suriname which have large land masses.
Some attempts have admittedly been made
in this context. Climate will also be a consid-
eration in any such planning, for example, in
the case of Belize there is a cooler climate at
certain times of the year and so some crops
may be produced there rather than in the hotter
climates of Guyana and Suriname.
The position with regard to foreign exchange
is changing as we face economic contractions,
but our agricultural sector has the capability
to produce export commodities, particularly
on land that is less suitable for certain items
used directly for local consumption.
Revival of some export commodities would
thus help to diversify the economy and provide
The availability of food to individual citizens
also depends on their ability to purchase this
food and so household incomes are of particu-
So, too, is the cost of food. Local and Cari-
com systems of production must be efficient
in order to make food affordable.
Sustained encouragement must also be given
to home gardening to supplement the supply of
food to households. While not all households
have the luxury of a real backyard, there are
many workable examples of urban gardens
which can be taught.
We have the background of a history of a
sound agricultural sector despite it being al-
lowed to decline over the last years, institu-
tions that can be revived and, with the proper
structure, produce the supporting graduates
What we need is proper planning and the
political will to address the issue.
Rice farming in Plum Mitan
PHOTO: ABRAHAM DIAZ
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