Potential of agriculture sector

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TT once had a prominent agriculture sector producing cocoa, sugar cane, and tobacco, just to name a few. Due to factors such as the dual economic model from Sir Arthur Lewis, the rise of the oil industry, the policies of the World Trade Organization and, most of all, the stigma associated with farming by the general public, agriculture became a less desired field to enter.

The agriculture sector currently accounts for three per cent of the labour force, which is a huge decline from the eight per cent of a couple decades ago. This has caused an increase in the importation of food products of between $4 billion and $6 billion annually.

TT has the wherewithal to provide more than enough food for the entire population. We have land, water, locally-produced fertilisers and cheap fuel. The Government has been doing all it can to reinvigorate the sector through subsidised loans, agricultural incentive programmes, large commercial farms, employment encouragement, and strengthening of value chains and infrastructure development.

The misfortune about these policies is that they are all going to waste due to the majority of people not being informed about these opportunities and the farming stigma. Small-time farmers in the rural areas claim to not benefit from these policies due to not becoming registered farmers, which could be due to ill-conceived notions about being in the State’s database. Unless the Government deals with educating the public on the different opportunities available, all its efforts will be for nought.

In today’s world filled with an abundance of technology, agriculture has become a sector that is no longer heavily reliant on labour-intensive production, but more on sophisticated technologies such as robots, temperature and moisture sensors, aerial images and GPS technology. These devices have allowed businesses to minimise human error and maximise profits, efficiency and be more environmentally friendly.

The three per cent of the labour force that makes up the agriculture sector might be enough to produce food for the entire country and more, if these people can be educated about the phenomenon of agriculture technology. Technologies can lead to higher productivity per farmer, and higher crop yield, the decreased use of water, fertilisers and pesticides, which can protect the natural ecosystem by reducing the runoff of chemicals into rivers and groundwater. The robotic systems can enable more reliable monitoring and management of natural resources such as air and water quality.

The Agricultural Development Bank provides farmers with subsidised short to medium-term loans with an interest rate of three-five per cent, which farmers can use to invest in these technologies. These loans have a repayment period of seven years and a downpayment of 20 per cent of the farmers’ own capital. This is made possible through annual grants from the budget.

That is only one of the many avenues the Government has provided for farmers. Another avenue is the agricultural incentive programme. This provides capital grants to compensate for the cost of farm equipment and machinery, livestock facilities, post-harvest and processing facilities and farm security.

The following are the per cent share of costs with a maximum value limit: soil conservation, 100 per cent; establishment and rehabilitation of citrus, coffee, cocoa and coconut farms, 100 per cent; pest management (integrated pest management), 50 per cent; importing goats, sheep, pigs for breeding, 100 per cent; young farmers’ start-up, 50 per cent.

These are just a few of the very extensive domestic policies the Government has put in place to boost the agriculture industry. All that is left to do is for the public to be educated and made aware of these opportunities so that they can be put to good use. A farmer can feed 26 people with traditional farming methods but with modern agricultural technologies one farmer can feed 155 people on average. These technologies also help to protect the environment.

ANTONIO FIGARO