Sunday 8th November 2009
Macoya Farmers’ Market
Churchill Roosevelt Highway
Thank You very much Mr. Chairman, Mr. Terrence Haywood, hailing from Caura Valley
Her Excellency Eugenia Marcano Casado , Ambassador for Venezuela to Trinidad and Tobago
Mr. President of the National Food Crop Farmers Association, Mr. Norris Deonarine
Members of the Executive of the National Food Crop Farmers Association
Mr. Anil Ramnarine, Cunupia Farmers Association
Distinguished Members of the Head Table
Representatives of International Organizations and Agencies
Local Agricultural Associations
Food Crop Farmers of Trinidad and Tobago
Members of the Media
Ladies and Gentlemen
A pleasant good afternoon to everyone.
I am indeed extremely delighted to be here this afternoon to share with you this important milestone in the life your organization; your thirty-fifth anniversary. This is quite an achievement especially in a plural society like ours where divisiveness and intolerance of others have caused the lives of organizations to be filled with conflict and extremely short-lived; with some organizations scarcely surviving beyond the proverbial “honey moon period”.
Your organization has not only stood the test of time, but has at the same time provided the farmers of this country with thirty–five years of dedicated service. There is therefore good cause for celebration this afternoon and I am extremely happy to be here to savor the moment with you and to be given the opportunity to address you. Please allow me to extend my congratulations to you, Mr. Norris Deonarine, President of the Association, and the rest of your Executive Team on this momentous occasion which certainly could not have been achieved without strong and dynamic leadership.
From your modest beginning in November 1974 as an essentially localized organization with an initial small membership, I am told, of farmers from Aranguez, Barataria, Bamboo Settlement, Pasea and Macoya, you have developed over the last thirty-five years into a truly vibrant, national organization; representing the voice of some 3,000 plus farmers throughout Trinidad and Tobago. I am advised that your current membership is drawn from all the major food basket areas across Trinidad and Tobago including such areas as: Blanchisseuse, Tabaquite, Debe, Penal, Fishing Pond, Valencia, Vega de Oropouche, Guayaguayare, Charlotteville, Mamoral, Moruga, Aranguez, Rio Claro, Manzanilla, San Souci, Caigual, Plum Mitan, Talparo, Cedros, Mayaro and Wallerfield.
For the last thirty-five years, you have been a strong advocate for improvements in the overall conditions for farmers; rallying around the men and women who feed our nation daily, reminding them of their esteemed place in our society and their invaluable contribution to national development. You have certainly done your membership proud and I wish to commend you on the yeoman service being provided to and by our farmers.
The significance of the Contribution of our Farmers:
Ladies and Gentlemen, many of us take for granted the contribution made by our farmers in ensuring that food is on our tables daily and in promoting food and nutrition security for the country. I would like, however, to put their contributions in proper perspective by drawing attention to the 2008 Report of the Food and Agriculture Organization on “The State of Food Insecurity in the World”.
The Report indicates that in the year 2007, the number of undernourished people in the world increased by 75 million. Further, it is projected that by 2009, the number of persons afflicted by hunger would increase to in excess of one billion. It is further projected that as the world population reaches 9 billion the projected figure by 2050, the situation will become worse unless urgent and coordinated action is taken, particularly among the low income food–deficit countries, to increase food production and promote greater food and nutrition security.
The role of our farmers is pivotal therefore to ensuring that citizens of Trinidad and Tobago are not numbered among the hungry and undernourished, and that our children and children’s children always have access to adequate amounts of nutritious food at affordable prices.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I wish to salute the farmers of Trinidad and Tobago. I feel confident that the National Food Crop Farmers’ Association will continue working in close partnership with the Government and other stakeholders in the Sector to achieve the common objectives of food and nutrition security and food sovereignty for Trinidad and Tobago and indeed the entire Caribbean Region.
Speaking about partnerships, the Government is fully cognizant of the critical importance of, and totally committed to, the development and deepening of strategic partnerships with all our development partners, including such organization as the National Food Crop Farmers’ Association. We are acutely aware that the task of development cannot be undertaken by the Public Sector alone, but would require the combined strength and synergies of all stakeholders with each contributing according to its own strengths and capabilities. It is ONLY through a collaborative approach that we shall achieve Developed Country status.
In this regard, in keeping with my commitment to build partnerships with key stakeholders in the Agriculture Sector, it was just a few weeks ago that I met with members of your Executive, and discussed a range of issues affecting your membership mostly related to land tenure and access to lands. Given our resolve and commitment to moving forward, I am happy to report that we were able to clear the deck of several long outstanding matters to your satisfaction. Permit me to briefly update you and your membership on the various areas of agreements.
In Bon Air (East)
In terms of Security of tenure, specifically in Bon Air East, you may recall that the Ministry of Agriculture, through the office of the Commissioner of State Lands, had issued letters of offers to farmers. However our efforts to distribute the lands have been kept back by the non-acceptance of the offer by some farmers, because they said that the applicable lease rental was high. Lease rents at the time was worked out as (based on) 2% of the assessed market value of the land. Some of your members considered this to be too high.
My dear friends, I am happy to let you know that this is no longer a problem. This Government having listened to your concerns and given the commitment of the Government to creating an environment, where farmers can derive better incomes and profitability from their farming operations, took the matter up and we sought and obtained Cabinet’s approval for reduction of the lease rental on agricultural lands under ten (10) hectares.
The Cabinet decision is as follows:
Size of Parcels Previous Lease Rents
(From) Current Lease Rents
Where the parcel size is under 1 hectare we moved the rent from 2% of the assessed market value to $200.00
Where the parcel size is between 1 hectare to 2 hectares we adjusted rents from 2 % of the assessed market value to $400.00
Where the parcel size of land was greater than 2 and up to 5 hectares adjustment was made from 2% of the assessed market value to $700.00
we reduced the rents to
And finally where the parcel size of land is between 5 and 10 hectares 2 % of the assessed market value $1,000.00
This is not all my friends, the Cabinet has also approved the elimination of: stamp duties on standard Agricultural Leases for State lands in respect of small and medium sized parcels up to ten (10) hectares; and on the registration fees payable on such leases.
I wish to repeat Farmers whose Lease from the State for land ten (10) hectares OR LESS will no longer be required to pay Stamp Duty and REGISTRATION fees to get their Leases.
Since we last met, your Executive has undertaken to ensure that eligible farmers submit Letters of Acceptance to the many Offers to the Commissioner of State Lands, so that the processing of their leases can be undertaken expeditiously. I am pleased to advise that the Commissioner of State Land has commenced the processing of applications which have already been submitted. Like you, the Government is extremely keen on bringing closure to this long outstanding matter of regularizing leases in respect of land for farming.
In the case of Bois Bande Village, we at the Ministry are fully aware of the problems with squatters at Bois Bande Village. In this regard we have initiated discussions with the Land Settlement Agency, Ministry of Planning, Housing and the Environment in terms of a squatter relocation exercise. Towards this end, an occupancy survey has already been undertaken. We would be pursuing this matter aggressively with the Housing Ministry and would keep you Executive updated of developments.
At Curepe, regarding the distribution of lands to farmers in the Curepe area, we are awaiting from the Association the submission of the names of the fifteen (15) farmers to whom lands may be allocated. I give the assurance that as soon as the information is received by the Ministry, we would act with dispatch with a view to bringing this matter to a speedy conclusion.
Our efforts to renew existing leases for farmers at Pasea/Macoya have unfortunately been delayed by problems related to succession of family Estates, the transference of the lease to another member of the family, outside of the legal framework. We have advised the Association that in such matters inheritance of parcels would take precedence. In the circumstances, members should seek to resolve such family differences legally. Such family members meanwhile must desist from committing any breaches of the standard lease Agreement by, for example, the erection of several houses and multi-family dwellings on the leased lands. On a more positive note, I am pleased to advise that the Government has taken steps to have the tenure of new leases extended from three (3) years to thirty (30) years.
Ladies and Gentlemen, we understand the importance of land to the farmer. After all without land there can be no farming activity. We appreciate that you would feel a strong sense of ownership of and responsibility for the lands which you cultivate 24/7. We understand that this feeling is empowering; it is motivating; it is exciting and invigorating, and indeed, a catalyst for propelling you to invest not only your financial resources, but also physical, emotional and intellectual energies, into producing food for us all.
We are also very mindful that proper land title provides you with collateral for accessing financing and monetary incentives offered by the Government of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. We are therefore totally committed and will take all steps necessary to ensure that all BONA FIDE FARMERS have access to land as well as proper titles, very quickly.
Markets, Marketing and Marketplace
Markets, marketing and market place are critical elements in the success of any business activity.
As farmers, I am certain that you understand the importance of markets; for without markets there would be no production. In this age of globalization, where markets are being integrated especially through the internet and e-commerce, your vision of markets must extend beyond our geographical boundary, the local market, to regional and international markets.
A noteworthy development in the local market in recent times with respect to disposal of agricultural output is contract farming arrangements with the Trinidad and Tobago Agri-business Association (TTABA). As a result of these arrangements, an increasing number of small farmers have now been provided with guaranteed markets and can be assured of predictable income for their produce. For such arrangements to be successful however, farmers would have to be somewhat more disciplined with respect to their production schedules and would have to produce output of a consistently high and sustainable quality.
Gone are the days when a farmer would concentrate exclusively on production and dispose of his produce by constructing a little covered shed in the immediate vicinity of his lands at the roadside.
To be successful, you must move beyond that level of operation and become more involved in the active marketing of your produce in the various market segments, each with its own peculiarities and requirements. In this regard, you have to know and understand your customers, and how to prepare for selling to them. In today’s world the average customer is a very knowledgeable, demanding and sophisticated individual.
From time immemorial the marketplace has always been an important institution in the Agriculture Sector and in the life of a farmer. It is the place where farmers dispose of their produce. We understand the critical importance of the marketplace to the farmer and it is for this reason, we have been aggressively pursuing, through NAMDEVCO, the upgrading and development of farmers’ markets throughout the country. In this regard, seven (7) farmers’ markets have been established at various locations, here at Macoya, Diego Martin, Sangre Grande, Valencia, Chaguaramas, Debe and Point Fortin making it much easier for you to sell your produce.
I readily admit that despite our best efforts, much still need to be done in terms of our market infrastructure. In this regard, I am acutely aware of the plight of the food crop farmers in disposing of their output at this Farmers’ Market here at Macoya. When I met your President, Mr. Norris Deonarine, and some members of your Executive recently, he made strong representation of the problems being experienced at the market, and that we are committed to fix.
In this regard, I am happy to update you on the following actions which have already been taken by NAMDEVCO in addressing the concerns:
With respect to the congestion problem, which is particularly acute on the two (2) major trading days Thursdays and Fridays, several meetings have been held with the Chairman of the Tunapuna/Piarco Regional Corporation with a view to acquiring lands to the west of the market for the construction of a car park. The facility, when constructed, would have significant public lighting which would be an integral component of the vastly improved security system for the market
Designs have been completed for the upgrading and expansion of the market facilities to provide for two (2) additional 6,000 sq ft trading bays; chilled storage areas to allow for storage of produce 24/7; the installation of ATM facilities; a cafeteria; and the installation of surveillance cameras as part of the enhanced security arrangements.
When completed, the facility would comprise of four (4) trading bays bringing the total space to (24,000 sq ft), this represents an additional 12,000 sq ft of trading area and would have a significantly improved security system, with facilities and amenities for farmers and members of the public.
We are fully conscious of the existing security risks to farmers and customers in the present environment and we are taking steps to ensure your protection by significantly improving security arrangements at all farmers’ markets.
Priority is also being accorded to the upgrading and development of infrastructure for warehousing fresh produce by NAMDEVCO. A major focus in this regard is the developing of warehousing infrastructure to keep the produce under chilled conditions at 5 0C, thus maintaining the cold chain to the supermarket and household refrigerator to provide longer shelf life for the produce. The fresh produce would then be transported by way of vehicles equipped with chilled storage capacity.
Reduction in the Price of Fertilizers
Mr. Chairman, in response to the concerns of our farmers about significant escalation in their production cost resulting, inter alia, from the escalating trend in the price of imported fertilizers. The Government has taken decisive action to address this problem. In this regard, we are partnering with YARA Trinidad Limited a major local producer of ammonia and one of the world’s largest suppliers of mineral fertilizers, to source a cheaper supply of compound fertilizer for re-sale to registered farmers.
The fertilizer, YaraMila Partner has an NPK nutrient ration of 12:12:17, and contains minor elements of magnesium and sulphur; and trace elements zinc and boron. Additionally, the fertilizer is readily soluble and therefore the nutrients it contains can be easily absorbed by plants. The fertilizer is very versatile and has a wide range of applicability, notably in vegetable, root and tree crop farming. It is widely used in Europe, Africa and Brazil.
The fertilizer which would be available in 25kg bags would be distributed by the National Flour Mills. The first shipment of fertilizer will soon be in the country and the Ministry of Agriculture, Land and Marine Resources would soon be advising farmers of the selling price and other detailed logistical arrangements relating to the sale of the product.
In order to avail yourselves of this and other support and incentives that the Government is providing to the farmers of this country, you will need to be registered as a farmer. In this regard, the Ministry of Agriculture would soon be mounting a Farmers’ Registration Programme directed at updating our database. The information obtained will provide our planners and technical officers with a better understanding of the Agriculture Sector and will help us to better help you. We intend to work in close collaboration with ALL the Farmers’ Associations, be they members of the Society, Dairy farmers, Small ruminants, Livestock, Citrus Growers, Pineapple Farmers, whomever engaged in producing food for the Nation, in the implementation of this Registration Programme. I urge this Food Crop Farmers Association to ensure that all your members participate in the Programme and are registered.
Other Areas of Support
Mr. Chairman, there are several other areas in which the Government has been making critical interventions in support of our farmers. I crave your indulgence to briefly highlight some of our recent accomplishments in this regard:
Upgrading and Development of Agricultural Access Roads
Ladies and gentlemen, many of you in this audience, as farmers, are now better served with improved infrastructure, in particular Access Roads. In the fiscal year just ended, the Ministry of Agriculture successfully undertook the construction and improvement of some twenty (25) agricultural access roads spanning approximately thirty- five (35) km supporting some one thousand (1,000) farmers, who cultivate approximately two thousand, two hundred and fifty (2,250) hectares of agricultural lands.
Areas benefiting from these access roads include Mamoral, Petit Valley, Moruga, Balandra, Coryal, Tamana Hill, Cumuto, Nariva, Manzanilla, Paria, Tabaquite, Penal Rock Road, Esmeralda, Talparo, Plum Mitan, Cunupia, Cumana, Morne Diablo, Piparo, Biche, Los Iros and Rio Claro.
In addition, maintenance work was undertaken on a further twenty-eight (28) agricultural access roads for a total length of approximately twenty-six (26) km servicing approximately two thousand (2,000) hectares of agricultural lands to the benefit of an additional one thousand, two hundred (1,200) farmers.
Areas benefiting from these improved access roads included San Souci, Caigual, North Manzanilla, Wallerfield, Maloney, San Raphael, Chin Chin Road, Freeport, Cunupia, Aranguez North, Cedros, Penal, Quinam, Palo Seco, Guayaguayare, Erin, Manzanilla, Blanchisseuse, Maracas and Mayaro.
Overall some sixty-one (61) kilometers of access roads were developed and maintained, benefiting some two thousand, two hundred (2,200) farmers on some four thousand, two hundred and fifty (4,250) hectares of land throughout the country.
I am aware that there are several roads still in urgent need of upgrading. I wish to point out, however, that there are some eight hundred (800) km of agricultural access roads in the major “food basket areas” in Trinidad and with the best will in the world, all of these roads cannot be rehabilitated in any one fiscal year. However in the recent Budget Speech, the Honourable Karen Nunez-Tesheira has promised that more access roads are coming for the Sector.
We fully understand the challenge farmers face during the Dry Season for water for their crops. We know that without an adequate supply of water your crops would fail. For this reason over the years we have been providing assistance to farmers in the development of irrigation systems, so as to reduce their extreme reliance on rain-fed water and be able to cultivate crops all year round.
A major thrust of our efforts in this regard has been constructing ponds on farmers’ plots. In 2009, the Ministry of Agriculture constructed eighty-five ponds in the food crop projects located at Plum Mitan, Kernaham, Moruga, Cunjal and Guayaguayare. Additionally, demonstration drip irrigation systems have been established on farmers’ plots at food crop projects located at Los Iros, Platinite, Cunjal, Moruga and Guayaguayare.
Flood Control/ Drainage
The Government is extremely mindful of the hardships experienced by farmers who have been affected by flooding and in this regard, the Ministry of Agriculture have been working closely with the Ministries of Works and Transport, and Local Government in the in execution of a comprehensive nationwide Water Resource Management Programme with special focus on the most vulnerable areas.
During fiscal 2009, the Ministry of Agriculture also undertook extensive drainage works on agricultural lands throughout the country. Approximately one hundred and seventy (170) km of drains were desilted to the benefit of some two thousand (2,000) farmers. Improvement works were undertaken in such areas as Penal, Fyzabad, Carlsen Field, Felicity/Bejucal, Chandernagore, Aranguez (North/South), Bamboo #1, Orange Grove, Maloney, La Compensation, Plum Mitan, Fishing Pond, Madras, Joyce Road, Somaria Trace, Dyette Trace, Pierre Road, Guayamare and Platinite.
In addition, a number of allied civil drainage works were also undertaken such as: the construction of farmers’ crossings and bridges, installation of sluice gates and erosion control works and embankments. Three (3) pumps have been installed in the Plum Mitan area to reduce the incidence of flooding on farms there.
Praedial Larceny is perhaps the greatest scourge on the Agriculture Sector and the Government is committed to ensuring that the perpetrators of this crime are caught and brought to justice. We understand the pains of farmers who toil tireless in the sun 24/7 and return to their fields only to find their crops harvested by someone else. Those who reap what they did not sow must be punished.
Mindful of the increasing and heavy demands being made, and would continue to be made of the Police Service in its fight against crime, and with a view to providing more focused attention on the problem of praedial larceny, we have established a dedicated entity outside of the Police Service, the Agriculture Ranger Squad. The Squad would work in close collaboration with the Police Service, the primary law enforcement Agency in the country, as well as with the other arms of the Protective Services in addressing this problem. The resources for dealing with the problem have therefore been augmented.
The Agriculture Ranger Squad presently comprises of thirty-two (32) members and is located at Caroni’s Brechin Castle Compound. Initially, the Squad will patrol the Couva and Caroni districts. Later the Squad will expand to other areas as resources allow and demand determines. It should be pointed out however, that the Squad can investigate and take action on any praedial larceny offence that comes to its attention.
The Agriculture Ranger Squad is just one of several approaches that are being pursued to reduce the scourge of larceny of farmers’ produce, which robs them of income and profitability. Another measure, which is under consideration, is the FARMER and VENDOR REGISTRATION. A key in all of this is the TRACEABILITY of production whether CROP or LIVESTOCK.
Performance of the Agriculture Sector
Mr. Chairman, largely as a result of the hard work of you farmers, new life and dynamism have been infused into the Agriculture Sector. After six (6) years of decline, the Sector grew by 2.6% in 2007 and 8.6% in 2008. The projection is for continued growth and increased agricultural production in 2009. Commensurate with the growth experienced in the Agriculture Sector, employment in the Agriculture Sector has been increasing.
In its latest analysis of labour force trends in the domestic economy, the Central Statistical Office has indicated that over the second quarter of 2009, the Agriculture Sector was the leading employment creating sector in the economy, with 4,000 new jobs being created, an increase of 42.1%. The Agriculture Sector also experienced the highest growth in the labour force, increasing by some 4,600 persons or 28.9%. This is indeed a remarkable turnaround in the Agriculture Sector, which had been in decline for several years.
Mr. Chairman, in closing I wish to again congratulate the President and the entire membership of the National Food Crop Farmers’ Association on the attainment of this milestone, your 35th Anniversary. I look forward to a continued collaborative and productive relationship with your organization and indeed all the farmers of Trinidad and Tobago as we continue to work together to increase food production for greater food and nutrition security.
Remember increasing Agricultural production for food and nutrition Security in Trinidad and Tobago is everyone’s business.
Let us join together in providing more food at affordable prices and with greater income to the farming community.
May the Almighty BLESS You All!!
I thank you!