Guardian Journal of Trinidad and Tobago Consistency of local agriculture is a major challenge

By Shirley Bahadur

As regional governments and its private sector urge more agricultural production as a way to protect the Caribbean Community from the risk of food shortages, the president of the Local Supermarkets Association says there remains the challenge of consistency, the quality and reliability of agricultural products. …

Over the past few weeks, T&T has hosted two major agricultural expos – one in the south and one in the north – to promote local food while highlighting the many benefits of being part of the sector, including the creation of lucrative businesses.

Supermarket Association chairman Rajiv Diptee told the Business Guardian that the challenges for local farming remain consistency, quality and reliability.

“In T&T, when we talk about agriculture, despite everything that has come out in recent days, we still have to correct the fundamentals; predial flight is still a big thing as well as land grabbing issues. And there are still a lot of crimes and thefts. Farmers are tired of bringing out the thief. These are still real issues that need to be addressed,” Diptee said, emphasizing that farmers need to feel safe and protected.

“I can’t tell you how many farmers told me they were afraid for their lives. Some of them say they have been advocating arming farmers for a very long time,” Diptee added.

However, he said the association continues to work with organizations like NAMDEVCO and farmer groups to make more products available in local supermarkets.

“We do not deal directly with NAMDEVCO. We’ve tried in the past, but now we’re leaning on that relationship a lot more,” Diptee said.

He noted that one of the main aims of the expo was to promote the Farmers Registry in a “big” way to help get more goods into stores.

Additionally, Diptee said the Caribbean Supermarket Association was launched last Friday to also work more closely with farming communities locally and regionally.

“One of the ideas on this is that if our government and the government of Guyana are serious about agriculture and they are willing to help with all the bureaucracy, like infrastructure development, including roads for access, so that’s something we want to work more closely with them because they have to bring it to market in T&T and we want to inform that process,” Diptee explained.

Additionally, another highlight of the expo was pushing the farmer registry which Diptee says is supposed to have more produce in stores.

Members of the public look at the paw paw on display at Namdevco’s stand during the Agri Investment Forum and Expo 11 at Queen’s Park Savannah, Port-of-Spain, yesterday.

ANISTO ALVES

However, he pointed out that farmers remain a vulnerable group, living paycheck to paycheck.

“As soon as they have produce they want to get rid of it, that’s where the middlemen come in. They buy directly from the farmers and that’s another layer you have to navigate,” Diptee added.

Going forward, he recommended that Guyana could be a lucrative market for commodities like wheat, corn and soybeans.

“This is particularly important where you might be looking to reduce transport costs and remove tariffs to implement ease of trade and have no barriers to entry between islands.

“The potential is there for that because grain, for example, continues to be one of the biggest items when you look at the $6 billion import bill,” Diptee said.

Livestock production can also be looked at to fill the gap, as Diptee added that Caricom already offers a lot of production in this area.

The Business Guardian also contacted Nirmalla Debysingh-Persad, CEO of Remaining Challenges Consistency, Quality and Reliability, who said consumer demand was key to an increase in products on the shelves.

Noting that supermarkets generally meet demand, Debysingh-Persad explained, “If consumers demand more local fresh fruits and vegetables on the shelves, they will go there. So it has to be a boost from the market side to have the products in the supermarkets. »

She said this also goes hand in hand with quality and safety assurance as well as consistency and most importantly price is a factor.

“The price must be right so that the customer can afford it and can permanently buy the items for their family,” Debysingh-Persad added.

She said that while having more goods on the shelves is a work in progress, farmers’ markets are good places to start as many supermarkets also visit these places to build such relationships.

“I could easily say that there are supermarkets that have forged links with farms and are buying directly through the farmers’ market initiative. So you find that there are unique niche products in supermarkets and they are affordable because they are purchased directly from farms. It also encourages greater production and better product quality,” added Debysingh-Persad.

Vernon Persad of Persad’s D Food King also agreed that many supermarkets already buy directly from farmers in their local community, who in turn are also their customers.

He said that large supermarket chains like his supermarket and even small players allocate for all categories of local produce, vegetables, fruits and even condiments/seasonings.

All of these supermarkets buy directly from local farmers through direct supply agreements or with contracted produce and vegetable suppliers who have distribution contracts with supermarkets, who in turn work with their farmers directly at farm or at NAMDEVCO regional wholesale markets like Macoya, Port-of-Spain and Debe,” added Persad.