EXPANDING THE FOOD SUPPLY AND AGRICULTURAL EXPORTS
Agriculture is one of the riskiest endeavours among economic activities in Trinidad and Tobago, due to high and difficult-to-predict weather fluctuations, great fluctuation and uncertainty in prices driven by unpredictable market conditions, and the occurrence of often sudden and dramatic natural shocks such as those caused by plant and animal diseases and pests.
Over the last 50 years, various policy frameworks, expenditure priorities, and development theories have challenged the agricultural sector and led to declining, faltering, or inappropriate investments in the sector.
This must change.
Post Covid-19, building resilience requires insulating the economy against the impact of shortages and supply chain disruptions by having an adequate food supply.
We are clear that there must be a resurgence and rebirth in agricultural production. To encourage investment, we have already committed in 2020 to making Agriculture in all its facets a tax-free industry.
Following this bold initiative, we intend to allocate $500M in Fiscal Years 2021-2022 to stimulate and incentivize all aspects of the sector, to provide the confidence that is required for our people to invest their time, effort and finances in the sector.
This additional expenditure will be invested in all required areas, such as:
- access roads, irrigation and drainage systems
- subsidies and crop insurance
- land tenure, water and electricity supply
- ICT and mechanization
- wholesale and retail markets
- pest and disease control
- research and development
- financial support through grants and soft loans for farmers
Circumventing the challenges that have threatened the food supply requires a fundamental change in the way agriculture is produced. In the short term, the immediate emphasis on the reduction of the food and agriculture import bill and increasing export- oriented growth will require focus on new areas.
UPSCALING PRODUCTION FOR DOMESTIC USE
The PNM will:
- Facilitate increased productivity levels and expansion of output across all commodities
- Provide the protective policy space for domestic agriculture production expansion
- Strengthen the domestic farm-to-market supply chain
In the short term, the PNM will give immediate attention to boosting and supporting the following areas of production:
- African Hill Rice/Upland Rice
REINVENTING AGRICULTURAL SYSTEMS AND PRODUCING DIFFERENTLY
Over the medium to long term, a major shift to modern, technology-based farming is required to achieve sustained growth and competitiveness in the sector.
The application of technology in agriculture will improve output and reinvent the image of the farmer, by elevating the status of farming as a more sustainable career, driven by sophisticated technologies and increased returns on investment. Major technology innovations in the space have given birth to integrated farming solutions utilising indoor vertical farming, automation and robotics, livestock technology, modern greenhouse practices, precision agriculture, artificial intelligence, and blockchain.
The new vision for Agriculture will be based on the following areas:
CATALYSE BEHAVIOURAL CHANGE ACROSS THE PRODUCTION-CONSUMPTION CONTINUUM AND SUPPORT NUTRION-SENSITIVE VALUE CHAIN INTERVENIONS
To achieve this the PNM will:
- Encourage and support investment in precision agriculture to allow farmers to maximize yields by controlling every variable of crop farming such as moisture levels, pest stress, soil conditions, and micro-climates
- Promote the use of home gardens using a combination of growing techniques such as grow boxes, container farming, homestead hydroponics, aquaculture/aquaponics, aeroponics, to augment the domestic food supply and even reduce farming’s impact on the environment by cutting down distance travelled in the supply chain
- Create community-supported agriculture programmes utilizing techniques such as Permaculture/Regenerative/ Integrated/ Biodynamic Farming
- Increase education campaigns promoting the benefits of locally produced alternatives to cater to lifestyles such as veganism, gluten-free and pescatarian to reduce the incidence of non- communicable diseases and reduce the burden on the health care system
- Develop marine aquaculture, due to its reduced vulnerability compared to freshwater aquaculture, in areas such as molluscs, clams, oysters and crustaceans, as well as sea moss farming, since they are generally having low start- up and operating costs and require relatively low technical expertise
INVEST IN PRODUCTIVITY-ORIENTED RESEARCH AND TECHNOLOGY
- Invest in artificial intelligence-driven systems that build and expand credible agricultural databases and inform decision making for better harvests and environmental conditions
- Establish a Centre of Excellence in High-Value and Indigenous Agricultural products to address the innovation needs of firms operating in the sector. The Centre of Excellence will bring together the relevant stakeholders and can offer the following services over the short, medium and long term once it is established:
- Competence development through skills development training in technical and business proficiencies, domestic and international apprenticeships, and business training through practical applications such as pilot farms
- Accelerating innovation by providing access to equipment and facilities for testing and certification, adapting existing technologies to business needs, providing advisory services on intellectual property protection and boosting the technological capabilities of businesses with a lack of capacity
- Consultancy/Industry support in the form of advisory and mentorship services in technical and business areas as well as technical advice on certification and quality control measures
- Connecting businesses through inter-sectoral cluster development, closing the gap between academia and business research and development collaborations and providing advice for sectoral innovation collaboration policy, regulation and certification
- Creating communities of practice through thought leadership initiatives such as seminars and conferences, provide information on funding opportunities locally and internationally, provide information on technical standards and publish information on new trends (research, varieties, best practices, markets and technology) and research in the sector
- Collaborative R&D for new high value-added product design, food production processes, new varieties of products and to test application concepts while also promoting the development of innovative packaging design
STRENGHTHEN LINKAGES BETWEEN INDUSTRY AND AGRICULTURE TO BUILD SUSTAINABLE FOOD SYSTEMS
The PNM will:
- Encourage and support products that can derive higher-value-added benefits through the Manufacturing Sector such as Agri-processing, nutraceuticals, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, textiles, paper, packaging, adhesive industries etc.
- Promote the utilisation of final products from farming and fishing to expand the experience in the tourism industry through visitor attractions and tours, marine parks and other community events associated with food and fisheries, e.g. BessFest in Trinidad and the Tobago Blue Food Festival
- Develop industries which produce bioethanol, biodiesel, and biogas from organic waste which reduces greenhouse gas emissions and lowers the risk of pollution to waterways while reducing the burden on landfills
- Deepen integration within the private sector (connecting micro and big businesses to create a strong agribusiness ecosystem)
- Create more Public Private Partnership arrangements for agribusiness in the following areas:
- Development of agricultural value chains;
- Joint agricultural research, innovation and technology transfer;
- Building and infrastructure; and upgrading market
- The delivery of business development services to farmers and small enterprises
- Encourage and support investment in livestock farming technology to improve the production capacity, welfare, or management of animals and livestock by examining animal genomics and drive research into the creation of more disease-resistant species
BUILD A CULTURE OF AGRIPRENEURSHIP AND INVEST IN FARM AUTOMATION TECHNOLOGY
Agripreneurship focuses on understanding the role of the farmer entrepreneur in the new market, identifying all the potential clients of this new and innovative type of entrepreneurship and, of course, defining the business idea behind the value chain.
The PNM will:
- Formalize Farming at the Certification (CVQ) level and provide incentives to attract younger farmers to deal with the aging farming population such as access to finance, land and equipment for both traditional and non-traditional farming methods
- Encourage and support farm automation technology that utilises robotics, drones and autonomous equipment
- Explore the use of migrant labour for seasonal work – while COVID has shown these schemes can create supply chain disruptions in the advent of heightened infection rates, the lessons learnt can be applied to change how these schemes are developed and introduced for selected commodities
- Revisit the mega-farm concept with an emphasis on transfer of technology to smaller farms
ADOPT CLIMATE-SMART AGRICULTURE (CSA) PRACTICES
The aim is to provide innovative solutions towards the complex and integrated goals of increasing yields, improving resilience, and promoting a low emissions agricultural sector.
The PNM will:
- Promote increased environmental security through processes such as the use of waste to energy biofuels and other waste reuse techniques such as composting for home gardens to reduce landfill waste
- Increase carbon sequestration through incentivising large-scale tree crop fruit and lumber production and environmental aesthetics
- Develop the Blue Economy through the sustainable use and management of marine and coastal resources via the use of evidence-based decision-making
- Examine the introduction of “Climate proofing” interventions, particularly for small-scale fisheries businesses to build resilience and mitigate against adverse climate impacts
- Strengthen Water Management (including review of WASA policy in the context of water for agriculture) and engage the energy drilling companies to locate new ground water sources for agriculture
- Regularize Land Information, Registration and Management
- Accelerate the provision by the State of Land tenure for farmers
CREATE REGIONAL LINKAGES ALONG THE FOOD SUPPLY CHAIN
The PNM will:
- Manage regional trade commitments while developing domestic production capacity
- Examine and strengthen the CSME to enable opportunities for cross border agricultural labour movement and the facilitation of knowledge sharing and transfer
- Increase partnerships to improve food certification and safety standards and examine the use of blockchain technology to solve urgent issues such as food fraud, safety recalls, supply chain inefficiency and food traceability in the current food system