“The reduction in the agricultural budget,” Dhano Sookoo, President of the Agricultural Society of Trinidad and Tobago said, “We can’t be talking about food security, and slashing the agricultural budget. What we are seeing is Government flushing agriculture down the drain.”
The local producers said the immediate removal of subsidy on premium gasoline, the zero-rating of Value Added Tax (VAT) on imported manufactured food items, the increase in cost of land leases, and the absence of an agricultural land policy in this year’s budget, will all add to the cost of locally produced foods.
Sookoo and Shiraz Khan, President of the Sheep and Goat Farmers Association told Newsday yesterday after Howai read the budget in the Parliament Chamber, at Tower D, in Port-of-Spain, that the decrease from $1.9 billion last year to $1.3 billion this year meant Government was not serious about food security given the drop in agricultural production worldwide, and escalating cost of foods due to droughts, and other natural disasters.
Zero-rating additional imported manufactured food items they said, “will also provide increase competition for local producers.” Sookoo was “more disappointed to note that Government has stated that Trinidad and Tobago was going to develop a food security facility with Guyana.”
The Minister of Food Production, Devant Maharaj, she said, “needs to explain to the people of TT why we are taking our taxpayers money and going to develop agriculture in Guyana.
“If we go and develop the food security programme in Guyana, what are the logistics of getting those foods to TT,” she questioned. On the other hand, Khan said, “I have no problem with food commodities to be grown in Guyana. We have a lot of land in TT that cannot come into production, because of lack of access and inadequate water for irrigation.
Sookoo, Khan and Assistant President of Trinidad and Tobago United Fisherfolk, Krishna Boodram, also expressed concern that the immediate removal of the subsidy on premium gasoline will add to the cost of food production. Sookoo and Khan said small agricultural machinery used in land preparation including ‘weed wackers’ (grass cutters), and pumps used in irrigation and drainage, use premium gasoline.
Boodram said fuel and fishing equipment, including engines, were already high, and fishermen were looking for relief.
As nothing was mentioned for the fishery sector in the reading of the budget, he said he hopes that more information will be released during the debate.