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Aranguez farmers attend to crops.

The COVID-19 pandemic has left nations around the world struggling to secure their food baskets and Trinidad and Tobago is no different.

The Aranguez United Farmers Association believes this country has the ability to produce all it needs to sustain itself but for far too long, farmers have been treated like the state’s bastard child.

Association secretary Bharat Rampersad told Guardian Media in an interview yesterday that while the state does provide concessions ( for farming, more than 90 per cent of farmers do not have land tenure and they cannot access those concessions.

“Agriculture has now become a priority? Why wasn’t this happening before? Is it because we are in a predicament that you are now looking for the bastard child to step up?” Rampersad asked yesterday.

He said the state’s focus on oil and gas over agriculture has caused T&T to suffer.

And even with the state’s dismissal of the importance of their livelihoods, farmers have not given up- battling hotter temperatures, increased rainfall, fluctuating market prices and predial larceny.

“What we are doing is gambling, there is no sure return on our produce, nothing, we are subjected to the whims and fancy of supply and demand, and food security should not go down that road,” Rampersad said.

He believes that with gas prices plummeting last week, agriculture can become a major player in the national economy.

“Take the produce off the farmers’ hands at a guaranteed price and you, the state, do the distribution, look for markets up the islands, we have NAMDEVCO with their packing house, give them something to do, don’t leave the packing house idle and create employment through that.”

He said guaranteed prices would give farmers a level of comfort to produce as they would be assured a return on their investments. He said only last week he had to destroy multiple mature kale plants as the demand for kale has drastically reduced with restaurants and hotels closed.

“Farmers need to know where their money is coming from and if you do that, agriculture could get our economy moving again, there are no two ways about it because people need to eat.”

Last week, Guardian Media contacted Agriculture Minister Clarence Rambharat for comment on concerns about T&T’s food security. Rambharat said then a subcommittee was convened to find ways to “stimulate the shift in our local taste for imported staples.”

Rambharat said that the committee was meeting virtually and would hold consultations to come to its findings.

↔—SHARLENE RAMPERSAD