More needed to encourage digital agriculture

If T&T’s agri­cul­ture sec­tor has to move for­ward, poli­cies are need­ed for su­per­mar­kets to buy from farm­ers and pri­vate sec­tor in­vest­ment is al­so nec­es­sary to ad­vise farm­ers on agri­cul­tur­al plan­ning as is suc­cess­ful­ly done in St Lu­cia and Ja­maica, says Agri­cul­tur­al So­ci­ety pres­i­dent Dhanoo Sookoo.

This was among rec­om­men­da­tions Sookoo made to Par­lia­ment’s Land and Phys­i­cal In­fra­struc­ture com­mit­tee yes­ter­day.

The team in­ter­viewed of­fi­cials of the So­ci­ety, Agri­cul­tur­al De­vel­op­ment Bank and To­ba­go House of As­sem­bly (Fish­eries/Forestry di­vi­sion) on how far non-tra­di­tion­al farm­ing meth­ods—in­clud­ing dig­i­tal agri­cul­ture—have gone.

 

Sookoo said the so­ci­ety rep­re­sents 10,000 farm­ers. She said the up­com­ing bud­get can be as high as $60b or $70b but it won’t help agri­cul­ture which needs mar­ket­ing, fi­nanc­ing and poli­cies to en­cour­age farm­ers in mod­ern agri­cul­ture tech­niques and the Agri­cul­ture Min­istry al­so needs to do more.

JSC mem­ber Nigel de Fre­itas, tak­ing is­sue with some ADB ap­proach­es, said T&T knows what to do in agri­cul­ture but doesn’t un­der­stand the busi­ness of agri­cul­ture. JSC’s Rush­ton Paray said quan­tum leaps are need­ed since old prac­tices won’t suf­fice for the sec­tor ahead.

So­ci­ety mem­ber Ronald Chan said a gen­er­a­tion gap ex­ists where old­er farm­ers use tra­di­tion­al meth­ods and younger ones are mov­ing to hy­dro­phon­ics and aqua­cul­ture.

Sookoo said there are no poli­cies to sup­port tech­nol­o­gy-dri­ven agri­cul­ture though the so­ci­ety is work­ing with ADB, UWI and East­ern Caribbean In­sti­tute of Agri­cul­ture and Forestry (Eci­af) to find mech­a­nisms for fi­nanc­ing which would en­cour­age in­vest­ment.

She said fi­nanc­ing and the is­sue of land ten­an­cy need to be sort­ed out. Many farm­ers are in­ter­est­ed in new tech­nol­o­gy, but the ma­jor hin­drance is fi­nanc­ing.

 

Sookoo said in­ter­est is low since farm­ers most­ly be­lieve in tra­di­tion­al meth­ods and there’s no pol­i­cy to en­sure mar­ket avail­abil­i­ty for goods pro­duced with mod­ern meth­ods which are slight­ly more ex­pen­sive to cul­ti­vate.

Sookoo said St Lu­cia has eight su­per­mar­kets and its pri­vate sec­tor runs them. That sec­tor en­cour­ages farm­ers, ad­vis­es on what’s vi­able to plant, does fi­nanc­ing, train­ing and green­house es­tab­lish­ment and buys the pro­duce in a sus­tain­able pro­gramme.

Sookoo said Ja­maica’s San­dals re­sorts have a sim­i­lar arrange­ment. She not­ed Cas­sa­va Bam­my and oth­er Ja­maican dish­es fea­ture more on com­mer­cial Ja­maican menus than French fries.

She said dig­i­tal meth­ods can ad­dress food se­cu­ri­ty, pro­duc­tion and Forex is­sues, but the is­sues need at­ten­tion.

Chan told the JSC that mod­ern prac­tices will take a cou­ple years to get go­ing. He said he learned by tri­al and er­ror since the Agri­cul­ture Min­istry didn’t lead the way and there’s no mod­el farm for in­stance.

Sookoo rec­om­mend­ed a fi­nanc­ing mech­a­nism for UWI/Eci­af grad­u­ates to launch green­hous­es. She sug­gest­ed a fund to sup­port youths who lack land ten­an­cy and al­so sug­gest­ed Gov­ern­ment free-up un­used pack­hous­es for farm­ers top grade goods

. Sookoo said a stake­hold­er com­mit­tee—in­clud­ing WASA in­put on wa­ter is­sues—to map the fu­ture is al­so need­ed.

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