Land set aside here for T&T farmers

-MoU signed between Guyana and Trinidad

Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago last week signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) which allows for 10,000 acres of land here to be made available to Trinidadian farmers.

“Trinidad is looking to reduce their imports on some things and increase to other countries others …We have been talking for a while, now we have signed over last week. I signed and he (Minister of Food Production) signed …it falls under the Jagdeo Initiative…,” Minister of Agriculture Dr. Leslie Ramsammy confirmed to Stabroek News  yesterday.

Ramsammy did not have specifics of the agreement at hand yesterday but promised a detailed explanation of the agreement today.  It is unclear where the land is located, what the financial terms of the agreement would be and who will actually be cultivating the land.

Today, Trinidad’s Finance Minister Larry Howai is expected to announce in his 2014 budget presentation that the lands will be made available for famers in the twin-island republic and will be administered by the Ministry of Food Production (MFP).

This agreement, according to an article in yesterday’s edition of Trinidad’s Newsday, will see Trinidadian investors applying to the MFP for licences to use the lands here. Under the facility, investors will be able to apply to the MFP for a  licence to use the lands in Guyana. These applications are to be made in the form of business proposals which will be evaluated by the ministry. The land must be used for the purposes of food production and to address the demand for food in Trinidad. It is expected that the initial amount of land to be made available will be 10,000 acres but this could be increased to 100,000 acres, the Newsday report said.

In his budget presentation last year, Howai had said that his ministry is moving to establish a Food Security Facility with the Government of Guyana and asserted that this facility is necessary because land is becoming less and less available in Trinidad and Tobago. “The Facility would commit both Governments to expanding agricultural production in Guyana through the establishment of commercial relationships for funding the establishment of several large agricultural estates in Guyana,” he said at the time.

Guyana is already helping Trinidad and Tobago to meet its coconut water needs and the two countries are now looking at new areas for agricultural trade and cooperation, with the ultimate aim of reducing their food import bills.

At a press conference held at the Guyana Ministry of Agriculture in February, the Agriculture ministers of the two countries would only say that plans were underway but did not go into specifics promising to do so after consultations with their respective governments.

The collaboration between the two countries, they explained, falls under the Jagdeo Initiative—an agricultural strategic programme aimed at boosting farming throughout the Caricom region and guaranteeing food security. Ramsammy had said that this would see bartering of agricultural produce in the Caricom Community and would not only enable healthier eating but would reduce food imports from international markets. Further, it is envisaged that the initiative would create more employment, increase export earnings and give farmers new and technologically-advanced ways of farming, among other benefits.

Former Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago Patrick Manning had already begun to ensure that the twin-island state was taking steps to improve access to farmable land. In 2011, Manning had developed a strategy which saw over 6000 farmers receive two-acre plots of land to grow non-traditional crops.

Sources privy to the agreement told this publication that in addition to negotiations with the Trinidadian government pertaining to obtaining farming lands here, that government was also meeting with private Trinidadian investors.

While Guyana has arguably some of the most diverse landscapes, drainage and irrigation issues continue to be problematic. Yet another of the constraints to be dealt with is transforming the transportation needs, especially for perishables. Guyana’s infrastructure is limited and access to rich farm lands is difficult which assures that while farming can happen, the cost of produce will be significantly driven up due to transportation constraints.

Only recently Trinidadian conglomerate ANSA McAL announced that it had suspended its proposed US$250 million to US$300 million biofuel project here subject to the availability of suitable lands for planting and access to transportation. The company earlier this year said that it was forced to turn its back on 40,000 hectares of land in the Canje Basin after its feasibility tests confirmed that the soil and rainy conditions proved the area useless for its project.

In July 2004 at the Cari-com Heads of Government conference in Grande Anse, Grenada, then President Bharrat Jagdeo presented a paper entitled ‘A framework for the Repositioning of Caribbean Agriculture’. In the Framework, he stressed the need for a regional policy and strategy for strengthening food security and alleviating poverty.

In January 2005, the proposal was formally dubbed the ‘Jagdeo Initiative’ with a theme ‘Strengthening Agri-culture for Sustainable Deve-lopment’. It was described as a practical instrument to move forward the Regional Transformation Programme  on Agriculture or its successor, the Caricom Common Agricultural Policy.

But even before then, in 2002, Jagdeo, who was the Lead Caricom Head of Government for Agriculture, had sought the assistance of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA). In late 2003, he proposed that the region build on its past effort to develop a Common Agricultural Policy and requested the Directors General of IICA and the FAO to support the Caricom Secretariat in developing a framework for repositioning agriculture in the region.

Following wider consultations, the first proposal outlining the Initiative’s vision, scope and focus and the process for its development was presented by Jagdeo to the Grande Anse Conference and the Heads of Government endorsed it. Many of the constraints hindering the initiative are yet to be addressed by Caricom members.

Subsequent to the Jagdeo Initiative, the Trinidad Government had announced plans for mega farms on the twin-island and these have proceeded. There have also been efforts in Trinidad to reap onions and carrots on a commercial basis and for  import substitution of English potatoes with locally-grown sweet potatoes. A Guyanese farmer had taken up one of the mega farms in Trinidad.

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