If it lives up to its full potential, the recently opened Moruga Agro-Processing and Light Industrial Park will be worth much more to this country than its $90 million price tag.

The facility can boost agricultural and rural development and will be a valuable gift to the country if, as promised, it generates thousands of jobs and brings about much-needed food security. These are facts that should not be lost in the flurry of pre-election sod turnings and ribbon cuttings over which Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley and members of his Cabinet have presided over in the last few days.

This is the first agro-processing park in T&T, opening up opportunities for a range of light manufacturing activities in the 11 developed land lots that are available there. Available for lease are five lots for purpose-built factory shells and six developed sites.

The location in Moruga will bring benefits to a community that has served mostly as a rural dormitory district for the much more commercially vibrant nearby districts of San Fernando and Princes Town. It needs revitalisation.

Hopefully, this time around, promises will be kept to develop agriculture, a sector that has often been touted as one that will drive the country’s economic diversification.

For all the studies that have been done and the ambitious plans drafted over the years, there have been very few initiatives aimed at the sector and many of those were not sustained.

At present, agriculture remains a very underdeveloped sector, contributing just 0.3 per cent to GDP and providing jobs for just four per cent of the population. This country produces only eight per cent of its required staple foods and has for many years been saddled with a high food import bill.

One facility won’t turn things around but it is a step in the direction which T&T should be heading to for long term sustainable development.

There are still many rural communities struggling to recover from the demise of the sugar industry, which brought about a downturn in rural employment.

The most recent estimates put the size of T&T’s rural population at 653,029, so greater effort needs to be put into improving the quality of life for residents in these areas. This will be in keeping with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, where rural development is identified as vital for a country’s overall economic, social and environmental viability.

Rural development was one of the key campaign promises by the PNM when it took power a few years ago but there are many elements of that strategy that have not been delivered.

The Moruga Agro-Processing And Light Industrial Park should be the first of many more agro-related projects, all to make this country food secure, drastically reduce the food import bill and put this country on the path to long term economic prosperity. That will be a good return for taxpayers on this $90 million investment.