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Eating local depends on availability

Monday, January 18 2016

AGRICULTURAL Society of Trinidad and Tobago (ASTT) incumbent president Dhano Sookoo has called on government ministers, MPs, academia, stakeholders of the agricultural sector and corporate bodies to jointly move forward the economy’s diversification process by investing in agriculture and food production.

In the President’s Address yesterday at the 177th annual meeting of the ASTT at St Augustine’s Secondary School yesterday, Sookoo said the ASTT has a strong membership and as such a strong platform to implement government’s agricultural policies to aid in diversifying the economy. With a membership from over 86 agricultural groups across the country functioning in a more structured way, she said, the Ministry of Agriculture, relevant State agencies and corporate entities would be better able to consult with farmers and allocate resources to them in a more structured and holistic way.

The meeting attracted hundreds of farmers who took part in the election of a new 26-member committee of management.

Sookoo was also seeking an eighth term as president. Calling on all stakeholders to put their differences behind them, Sookoo said, Government, and the minister and Ministry of Agriculture can only guide policies, but it is the farmers who are implementers.

“Let us walk this talk and show to the world that we are serious about food security in TT,” she said. Farmers who were sidelined over many decades, she said, were now being called to play a leading role to salvage the country’s economy and reduce the country’s high food bill on account of the steep drop in the price of oil and gas in recent times.

“What is happening with our economy is something that the ASTT was warning government about for the last seven years,” she said. “We had indicated that while we had the money we should have used that opportunity to diversify our economy. There was very little done,” she said. She continued, “Today you hear everyone, even the Prime Minister (Dr Keith Rowley) calling on citizens to eat more local. We can only eat local it if is available. There has to be availability of our local foods.” In the past, policy makers and leaders in society, she said, “were responsible for allowing our citizenry to acquire foreign tastes.

How we break that cycle will be very interesting in the coming years.” Much of the responsibility for changing the face of agriculture, she said, will rest on the shoulders of young farmers and young entrepreneurs. The previous committee of management she led, she said, had 13 members under the age of 35 and the slate she was leading to contest yesterday’s elections had 17 persons in the same age group. Referring to a number of young farmers who earn their livelihood through agriculture, she said, “if they can do it, others can do it too.”

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