In my last article I discussed initiatives the newly formed Tobago House of Assembly (THA) could pursue in education and agriculture. Space allowed me only brief mention of agriculture projects and so I shall address agriculture again and revive a concept that I put forward before on Tourism and an idea for alternative energy. All this will be spoiled if Tobago insists of becoming a part of the oil and gas industry—to rely on a wasting asset. Why not lead the way in diversifying the economy while still sharing on the current benefits of the petroleum industry as does the rest of Trinidad and Tobago. The central Government Heritage Fund is but a small part of what it should be and this present time of carnival emphasises our philosophy of "eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die". But our children and grandchildren will still be alive.
I shall first expand on the proposals for a cocoa industry made in my last article. To my knowledge advice by agricultural experts has on three occasions (1992, 2002, 2011) shown the way for the creation of an important cocoa industry in this country. This advice has been ignored by successive governments of different political parties. In the case of the 2011 report (submitted to the Economic Development board) such brief discussion as I have had with officials of that body lead me to believe that the attention which is being given to the report will lead to naught.
In my last article I suggested that the THA should plant 1,000 acres of cocoa. This should be done soon on existing agricultural estates under the control of the THA (otherwise these estates may be used for housing). Some years ago when a housing development was planned in Roxborough on cocoa lands I was invited to a workshop in Tobago at which students from a secondary school from that area presented an excellent paper opposing the use of agricultural land for housing. The housing development went ahead.
The planting of the cocoa should be looked at as being similar to the construction of factory buildings on an industrial estate. The farms could be leased immediately to farmers after planting of the cocoa (at least 50 acres each) or alternatively they could be leased to farmers after the cocoa has come into bearing. In each case an appropriate loan would be given to farmers to purchase the option to lease. Thus the development fund would be rotated. The terms would be appropriate to the estimated profitability of the farms.
The propagation station at Kendal might have to be used to produce the plants required for the cocoa expansion. Original planting material would have to be sourced at the Ministry of Food Production.
The proposals made in my last article for plantain could be adopted on a similar basis as proposed for the cocoa farms. The potential profitability of the plantain farms would has to be assessed in order to determine the optimum acreage of each farm. The THA has a tissue culture facility and so plantain plants could be produced in large numbers. The proposals which were originally made for plantains were for the Goldsborough valley and included fruit trees on the higher land with the hill tops remaining in forest trees.
Some years ago I was also involved in a report for development of the Castara estate and citrus was recommended for the lower land with sheep under the citrus and forested areas on the upper lands. As with the two other projects original establishment could be done by the THA and then the farms could be leased to farmers.
In all cases farmers should be buying the option to lease (with appropriate loans) so the programme should be a commercial venture from the start and not a "hand-out".
I have deliberately proposed long term cropping and not short term crops for direct THA involvement. Vegetables should be the province of small farmers with incentives from the THA such as low interest rate loans and help with perhaps marketing facilities at the start but these latter should soon become commercial.
I have in the past made specific proposals for a certain form which I believe tourism in Tobago should take since that island cannot compete in the long-term with other Caribbean destinations (particularly when the embargo on Cuba is finally lifted) in sun, sea and sand tourism. The proposal is that Tobago should strive to be declared a world conservation centre and attract visitors who are interested in conservation (Tobago has the oldest protected tropical rain forest in this part of the world on the main ridge and this is easily accessible). Further the marine environment is close at hand. With the development of University of Trinidad and Tobago and University of the West Indies sites in Tobago research facilities (and living accommodation) for visiting scientists and students should be developed to encourage "scientific tourism".
A survey conducted a few years ago indicated that the majority of citizens in Tobago did not favour large hotels but preferred medium-sized guest houses (of high standard). The lack of foreign investment should not be viewed as a disaster but rather should be used to encourage local investment in small and medium-sized hotels and guest houses.
Tobago could lead the world in the development of "ocean energy" utilising the constant stream of water currents that pass alongside Tobago (not tidal). The late Prof Julian Kenny and myself have called attention to this possibility without any response except that we learned that a Tobagonian engineer has designed a prototype machine to capture this energy. I have not heard recently if he is getting any support.
These two articles have given my thoughts on specific projects which are, I believe, achievable and which in the next period of four years the THA could show a positive response to the confidence that the people of Tobago have shown in them by the 12-0 election result.
• John Spence is professor emeritus, UWI. He also served as an independent senator.
—Part 1 appeared on January 24