T&T still hunting mega-farm investors

Arnold Piggott

-seeking to replace 25% of food imports
The Trinidad and Tobago government is still seeking local and foreign investors who could put state lands into major commercial agricultural production.
T&T is inviting “proposals from suitably experienced and qualified local and foreign agricultural investors to design, finance, develop and put into production a total of nine commercial agricultural farms of a minimum of 100 acres each.”

Meanwhile, T&T Minister of Agriculture Arnold Piggott has said that the government’s budgetary allocation for agriculture for the 2008/2009 fiscal year is expected to surpass $TT1 billion compared to the 2007/2008 period in which the sum of TT$0.9 billion was allocated and TT$0.5 billion for the 2006/2007 period because of the importance the government was placing on agriculture.

Arnold Piggott Addressing the Regional Agricultural Investment Forum at the Guyana International Conference Centre at Turkeyen, Greater Georgetown last week, Piggott said that the lands, which are state lands and which were primarily used for sugar cane cultivation, are to be located at Jerningham, 108 acres; Edinburgh, 354 acres; Orange Grove, 100 acres; Caroni, 100 acres; La Gloria, 364 acres; and Picton Estate, 1,203 acres.

The invitation to invest in the nine farms is one of 22 bankable projects discussed at the forum at which a number of financial institutions and investors were present. There was also one-on-one dialogue between potential investors and financiers.

Guyana had been hoping that under the Jagdeo Initiative countries like Trinidad would consider investing in farms in Guyana to meet their food needs but despite initial exchanges between the two Port-of-Spain does not seem interested and is forging ahead with its own farms. 
Speaking about ‘The Mega-Farm concept in Trinidad and Tobago’ Piggott said that the land identified would be made available through lease and joint venture arrangements with private investors. The nine farms are part of a wider project involving 15 mega-farms. Four have already been awarded and two others would be demonstration farms.

The two main objectives of the large farms are to significantly impact the current domestic supply and price levels of key fresh produce through the establishment and operation of intensive food crop and vegetable commercial production enterprises and to manage and operate the farming enterprises as models for the practice of modern agriculture.

It is envisioned that the farms will have strong links to processing or marketing channels and will therefore provide some feedstock from the agri-business sector, he said. In addition, he noted, in support of the private investors, the T&T government is committed to provide infrastructure, which includes roads, drainage, public utilities, up to the farm gate and the necessary framework to stimulate private sector investment. 
It is envisaged that in the partnership, Piggott said, the private sector would provide on-farm infrastructural development, including irrigation and other facilities.
Cultivation is being encouraged in vegetables, root crops, rice, mixed farming, livestock, and integrated farming with crops, livestock and aquaculture.

The investors would be responsible for complete financing of the project and will be required to source their own markets and develop and implement their own marketing strategy for the sale of produce locally and internationally.

He argued that the agricultural sector now has tremendous potential for making significant impact on trade in goods and services across several industries such as transportation, printing and packaging and the hospitality industry, including tourism, hotel and restaurant operations.

He said that, “investors in various businesses should therefore seize the moment and opportunities for investment and turn what appears to be a looming catastrophic gloom and doom into a massive boom in successful business development as it relates to agriculture and its spin-offs.”

Giving a background to the project, Piggott said that the government’s vision for the sector is that by the year 2020, T&T must be competitive and possess the capacity to sustain this competitiveness by becoming adaptive, technology-focused and market-driven in order to create resilience.

He said that to determine which commodities would be part of  the large scale production, the Ministry of Agriculture has developed ”a simple but effective template premised on the targeting of 25% consumption within food groups.”

He said that the ministry was currently using this food group approach to coordinate the production of the large farm initiative and was also inviting other Caricom partners to do likewise. The basic elements of the template are estimated consumption, actual imports, exports and the domestic gap within each group.

Replacing imports
Based on an analysis of foods that are imported and are replaceable the ministry is now working on a replacement commodity production system and the allocation of acreages required based on traditional yield per acre of the commodity to replace 25% of imports of the commodities.

Piggott said it was the intention of the T&T government to submit its findings to Caricom so that the regional coordinating policy mechanisms will ensure that in the  efforts to move towards food security, countries do not duplicate efforts within the same food groups and/or commodities.

He said that should Caricom and member states accept the recommendations of T&T to target 25% of selected imports which include   products that can be easily produced in the region, there can be a boom in the regional agricultural sector.

Twenty-five percent of selected products immediately create a regional market for an additional 253,000 tonnes of produce with a value of US$150 million. “An even more positive aspect of this approach is the fact that some of these ‘food security products’ would have a high level of protection from cheaper imports, with an assured regional market for sale.” (Miranda La Rose)

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