TT Chamber of Industry and Commerce president Charles Pashley has embraced the push for a regional approach to agriculture with a plea to TT to protect the land space set aside for this purpose.
He observed that the Russian/Ukraine war, along with the pandemic, has given rise to food security concerns, but without the space to make this happen, Pashley does not see the vision of reducing Trinidad and Tobago's food import bill by growing its own produce being realised.
He quoted statistics to show how agricultural space has shrunk over the past five decades and why it should be safeguarded as external factors continue to affect the country’s ability to feed itself.
“Agricultural land area in TT fell gradually from 1969, when we had 980 square kilometres, to our current level, to about 540 square kilometres.
“Preservation of our remaining agricultural land for agricultural purposes ought to be recognised as an important part of our national development agenda.”
Technological advances have made high-yield, small-space farming and processing possible to the extent that one can now maximise the use of this technology to grow agricultural opportunities, Pashley observed.
The TT Chamber was one of the business organisations which partnered with Southex Promotions to host the August 3-7 Food and Agriculture Expo at Gulf City Mall, La Romaine.
The Supermarket Association, along with the Guyana Chamber of Industry and Commerce, also collaborated on this initiative, which Southex CEO George Singh hopes to transform into a regional event.
Embracing the regional collaboration, Pashley said entrepreneurs have recognised the sector’s potential and there is ample opportunity for greater private-sector involvement and investment.
“Just recently, Guyana’s vice president, referring to Caricom's goal of increasing agricultural output by US$1.5 billion by 2025, estimated that US$7.5 billion more in private-sector investment is required if the region is to reach that target.
“Pardon the pun, but that’s food for thought. With our present capacity, even with import substitution, we must continue to trade to satisfy several of our basic food and nutrition needs.
“What is entirely within our reach, beginning now, is to start the process of regional collaboration to achieve a more secure future for our population.
“Surely, the time could not be more right to form the strategic partnerships by which we may collectively – as a region – share resources, supply and innovate, and be within the global framework.
He quoted the IMF World Economic Update of July 2022, which pointed to the worsening food crisis, identifying the principal driver of global food, particularly prices of cereal and wheat, as the war in Ukraine, and how low-income countries, where food represents a larger share of consumption, are feeling the impact.
“It really is up to us here, now, if we can see the value of regional co-operation and make it work. I really see no other way for us to go, since the challenges we face, we face as a region.
“Rising sea levels or drought or storms will not single out one country – we are all at risk. As head of the TT Chamber, I call for us – all stakeholders and decision-makers – to form partnerships which will allow us to act urgently to address the issue of food security.”
Pointing out that over 60 per cent of the chamber’s membership comprises small and medium-sized enterprises, drawn from the services, distribution, manufacturing and retail sectors, Pashley said it is important to have agriculture and agro-process as one of the pillars to transform the economy and diversify earnings away from energy.
He said the chamber will continue to assume a leadership role for issues that affect the economy and businesses, to advocate for responsible change and facilitate the dialogue that helps to realise a sustainable future.