THE gap between what we produce and what we eat is quickly widening, says Rudy Maharaj, chairman of the Agricultural Development Bank (ADB) of Trinidad and Tobago.
Addressing attendees at the launch of the School Nutrition Caterers' Loan at Centre Pointe Mall in Chaguanas last Friday, Maharaj described the situation as frightening and called on citizens to take action and close it in.
"Whatever the reasons, and there may be plenty, unlike sustainable levels of domestic food supplies this level of food import dependence and vulnerability is nothing short of ironic absurdity.
"Simply put, it is totally unacceptable and unexplainable having regard to the quantum of productive resources, particularly land, now being idle and wasted," he said.
In fact, in 2009, Trinidad and Tobago spent an estimated $4 billion on food imports, which today has since showed no sign of falling. And, according to Maharaj, there was empirical evidence to conclude that "an unimaginable gap exists between what we grow and produce and what we eat".
This gap, he added, cost the country $3.4 billion in 2007, $3.65 billion in 2008 and an estimated $4.0 billion in 2009.
"Since 2005, the downward, irreversible slide in agricultural performance and productivity has spared no sector or sub-sector (except poultry), with the total agricultural production in 2007 valued at $473 million and accounted for 0.4 per cent of the GDP (Gross Domestic Product), compared to $674 million in 2003 and a 0.9 per cent contribution to GDP," he said.
Meanwhile, Maharaj added that the export of domestic agricultural crops shrank from $14.1 million in 2003 to $5.8 million in 2007. Furthermore, it showed marginal ups and downs for the period 2007 and 2008, averaging $450 million.
In 2003, the agriculture sector employed 36,100 people. The corresponding figure in 2008 was 23,000. And according to Food Production Minister Devant Maharaj, who also addressed the event, this was cause for even more concern.
As such, in an attempt to uplift the socio-economic status of this country's farming families, while encouraging them to stay in the sector, Maharaj said the Government has created the Born to Farm Children's Foundation, an initiative of the Agricultural Development Bank of Trinidad and Tobago.
"It has been developed and approved with an initial $25 million input and will be formally launched in the first week of December," he said.
Maharaj explained the foundation will establish a working committee comprising different community partners and non-governmental organisations, such as the Rotary Club, SERVOL, various farmers' association and other State boards and agencies.
The goal, he said, was to ensure more people felt empowered enough to achieve sustainable livelihoods.
"This Government will achieve food security as a reality and, in the process, effectively address the issue of water resources management, including flooding and water security, and that will have a direct effect on our quality of life and the price of food. By linking workers to the productive process and to sustainable initiatives, we will improve productivity and enhance sustainable development practices throughout the country," the Minister said.