Some Tobago farmers say the Government’s 70 per cent increased budgetary allocation for agriculture over last year’s figure will do little for the sector.
In order to really help the sector, the farmers say existing policies must be analysed to see why they do not work.
During Monday’s Budget presentation, Finance Minister Colm Imbert said agriculture would get a $500 million Stimulus Package, representing a 70 per cent increase over last year’s allocation. This is to get the sector out of its “decades-old malaise,” he said.
But farmer Ken Leander, 57, of Roxborough, who farms a three-acre parcel of state lands on the Cameron Estate, Roxborough, said “throwing more money without improving the existing systems, is a waste of time.”
He explained the hardships he has faced as a farmer for more than 40 years.
Most of his grievances centre around not being reimbursed by the Tobago House of Assembly’s Division of Agriculture for projects he undertook or purchases he made.
“Farmers in Trinidad plant crops on the river banks and when their crops wash away they get compensation. In Tobago, when my crops wash away, even if I not close to the river, I get nothing,” Leander told Tobago Today.
When Tobago Today visited his farm on Wednesday, there was a wide variety of fully grown fruit trees, short vegetable crops, ducks and over 20 pigs in pens.
“The pens need repairs but I have no money to fix them,” the farmer, who also works for the THA, said.
He said although he has a farmer’s badge, he has to wholesale his goods. He praised the THA’s extension officer who visits his farm.
“She does her work but she alone cannot improve the sector,” he said.
His brother Mac-Oxaley Leander, also a farmer and THA employee, spoke of similar issues. He said he has been waiting for more than a year to receive a monetary incentive from the THA for purchasing a vehicle for farming.
The brothers were asked about the Government’s $20 million farming access road allocation outlined in the 2018 Budget for Tobago’s farmers.
The brothers, who inherited the state-leased lands from their deceased father Bailey Leander, claimed “many roads are cut, but they lead to nowhere, just empty farms.”
Orwin Dillon, a Goldsborough farmer, said Government’s emphasis on agriculture “would not work unless stakeholders demand change.”
“They could throw whatever funds they want at the sector but if they don’t improve the implementation of the delivery, monitoring and evaluation of services, not much will come of the money,” Dillon said.
He said he had paid the THA’s Tractor Pool to cut his land almost two years ago.
“To date, I can’t plant on the land because they have not completed the entire land preparation process,” the farmer with over 40 years of experience claimed.
“We need more than money for this sector to turn around. What we need is a change in mindset,” he said.
Secretary of Food Production, Forestry and Fisheries Hayden Spencer said many the farmers work the land part-time during the May, June and July rainy season.
“Many are not willing to learn how to do sustainable agriculture,” Spencer said.
He said the THA is implementing an irrigation programme to help alleviate some of the problems.
“Also, TADCO (Tobago Agribusiness Development Company) will help with marketing and address many other problems,” he said.
The company was created when the THA merged the Cassava Company, Fish Processing Company and the Tobago Cold Storage Company.