T&T could be facing a seed crisis soon and farmers across the country are calling on the Government to provide access to high-quality seeds so they can ramp up farming.
During an interview with Guardian Media, researcher and plant breeder Ramdeo Boondoo said while some farmers keep seeds, the majority depend on seeds from abroad.
“We have limited seeds but the government must take the initiative to show farmers how to store seeds and how to protect it. Having a good surplus of seeds will bring about success in the agricultural sector,” Boondoo said.
The farmer from Perseverance Road, Chaguanas has been involved in training students from the University of the West Indies in successful farming techniques. With 32 certificates in agriculture, Boodoo said much of his knowledge comes from attending agricultural training sessions abroad.
Even though he has been farming for 50 years, Boondoo said the Ministry should invest in training farmers so they could utilise new technology and strategies in farming. However, he said local farmers compete with each other rather than helping each other.
“If farmers can share techniques and strategies they will all benefit but this does not happen in T&T. Also, the University of the West Indies has failed as it relates to teaching farmers new research and developments in agriculture. Boondoo said UWI should be leading the way in agro-processing, while the National Agriculture Marketing Development Corporation should be finding markets for farmers produce.
Boondoo said the Agricultural Development Bank has transformed into being farmer-friendly and has been a great source of assistance to farmers.
He said farmers plant, reap and then look for a market but this should be the other way around. “Namdevco should be looking at potential markets and then guiding farmers in different areas about where to plant when to plant and what quantity of what crop should be planted,” Boondoo said.
He noted that more agro-processing plants should be set up in areas where farming was being done on a large scale.
“Putting an agro-processing plant in Moruga makes no sense. How will farmers transport goods so far away to be processed?” Boondoo asked.
Another farmer Patrick Lemo from Moruga said the farmers of Moruga are careful to keep their seeds.
“I have every available type of seeds. Farmers save seeds according to what they plant, If you plant watermelon, you can’t replant the seeds. It’s the same with tomatoes. Sweet corn is the same but with local corn as long as you keep the seeds dry, it will come good,” Lemo said.
Meanwhile, senior lecturer at the University of the West Indies Dr Wendy-Ann Isaac said the university has been involved in a Saving-Our-Seeds project.
Saying seed security was very important for successful farming. Isaac said prior to COVID-19 restrictions, a seed fair was being organised where farmers could share their seeds.
“According to a recent study conducted by students at the University of the West Indies, it was found that many farmers do not save seeds but instead they source seeds from a selected combination of formal and informal market and nonmarket channels to efficiently meet their demands for quality seeds,” Isaac said.
She added, “T&T has a small agricultural sector with approximately 20,000 farmers.
She said that many farmers are dependent on certified seed imports.
“In some instances, open-pollinated varieties are cultivated, however, these are limited to a selected few varieties within some plant families. In 2019, The Department of Food Production at The University of the West Indies embarked on a Research and Development Impact (RDI) project funded by the Government of T&T on “Saving-Our-Seeds” (UWI-SOS). The project had hoped to launch its “Seeds of Survival Kits” to householders at the recently cancelled TechAgri Expo 2020, planned for March 27-29,” she said
Isaac, one of the major objectives of the UWI-SOS RDI project, was the establishment of a seed bank collection of germplasm material from T&T and other Caribbean countries.
“The seed bank will maintain a collection of all locally available seed and underutilised seeds for food and medicine throughout the Caribbean and also “hard-to-find” seeds that thrive under the often difficult growing conditions in the tropics. Seed banks are particularly important in times of food shortage,” Isaac said.
A further objective of the project, she outlined, was to establish a crop museum of over 200 different vegetable and medicinal plants with the hope having a diversity of crops which will provide a range of vitamins, potassium, folate, fibre, iron and phytochemicals that will contribute to improving food and nutrition security to households in T&T.”
“It is envisaged that the project will result in the creation of stronger linkages among stakeholders including the Ministry of Agriculture’s Seed Bank at Chaguaramas, the University of Trinidad and Tobago and other various seed-producing and saving farming communities throughout T&T, other stakeholders throughout the region, and international gene banks to share knowledge and climate-resilient germplasm,” Isaac said.
She noted that the project also aims to establish a seed testing facility and certifying agency for seeds produced in T&T.
“The project also aims to work with the Ministry of Agriculture in developing a seed policy in order to protect the diversity of local open-pollinated varieties (OPVs) in T&T. The project will contribute to the development of capacities within the stakeholders to strengthen synergies and collaboration among stakeholders in agricultural research, extension, policy and international organisations.”
She noted that selected project team members will be leading the germplasm collection missions and documenting/depositing of the information will be done in collaboration with the National Herbarium of T&T.