(Trinidad Express) The long-ballyhooed “food security facility” project, combining arable land in Guyana’s continental space and capital from Trinidad and Tobago, gained the status of official policy in Finance Minister Larry Howai’s September 9 budget.
Mr Howai reported that the Government is “moving ahead” to enable the cultivation of, first, 10,000 acres and, later, 90,000 acres in Berbice.
Private investment is being invited, presumably from among Trinidad and Tobago conglomerates already operating in Guyana.
The deal negotiated with Guyana will ensure that Trinidad and Tobago companies will share incentives provided to Guyanese farmers and also enjoy guaranteed repatriation of profits.
The facility should advance realisation of an old regional ambition for economic co-operation. As always, however, inside both countries, scepticism and suspicion will be expressed.
Trinidad and Tobago agricultural interests have criticised the project as an unnecessary diversion of resources. But the Guyana cultivations are unlikely to be ruinous to Trinidad and Tobago investors trying something new and different in agriculture.
This country’s public and private sectors should be capable of both producing, for example, rice, in the more favourable Guyanese conditions, while advancing other forms of food production in Trinidad and Tobago.
And with such an expanse of land available in Guyana, investors from Trinidad and Tobago can explore the propagation of various types of livestock, including the buffalypso, a hardy provider of beef and milk which was developed in Trinidad and which has been exported throughout the Americas with much success.
Since the dismantling of Caroni Ltd, the local buffalypso herd was allowed to dwindle and this would be an ideal opportunity to revive it.
They can also look at the rearing of goats, with that animal’s meat and milk currently catching on in the North American market.
On the cultivation side, with the fickle American consumer finally becoming aware of the healthy benefits of the coconut which has suffered the ravages of disease and neglect on local plantations, the Guyanese facility would be the ideal place to grow the trees and supply the vast US market.
And there are many other such projects which can be invested in to the benefit of both Guyanese and Trinidad and Tobago interests.
At the same time, such investment must not be at the peril of the local farmers, who should continue to supply short-term crops to the Trinidad and Tobago market.
And this should not be looked at by the Government of the day as an opportunity to take prime agricultural land and use it for other purposes, including housing, which has been done to our detriment by successive administrations.
Instead, even more attention should be paid to Trinidad and Tobago’s farmers, encouraging and assisting them in their endeavours.
The food security facility arrangement with Guyana should be a long-term project that will be of mutual benefit to its investors and all the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago and our Caricom neighbour.