Through an annual three-month course of lectures and workshops, the programme aims to equip local food producers with knowledge of state-of-the-art computer technology and business practices, said a media release from Atlantic.
Speaking at the programme’s recent graduation ceremony at the UTT’s Chaguanas campus, Toni Sirju-Ramnarine, Atlantic’s vice-president of corporate operations explained that the graduates had a critical role to play in helping to strengthen local food security and the country’s capacity to feed its people.
“You now have the power to rewrite the narrative of the local agricultural sector – to chart a new course where agriculture is influenced by technology and innovation,” Sirju-Ramnarine said.
“It is no longer just about feeding your community. We must aim towards building a competitive, resilient and sustainable agricultural industry; an industry that can be a source for cheaper, local agricultural produce and by-products, an industry that will attract more young people and create employment; an industry that can contribute significantly to economic diversification.”
Programme valedictorian Keith Cadet, an aspiring pepper farmer and exporter, said that the inclusion of technology was a very important part of the programme.
“The programme actually covered quite a number of things that we in the class needed to be aware of and know about,” Cadet said. “It certainly brought to mind the importance of research, and of developing a well-documented plan in the areas of human resource, marketing and finance. The most important thing we learned was the importance of developing a plan.”
Explaining that his business idea to establish a pepper farm enterprise in Tabaquite was still in the planning stages, Cadet said that everything that he learned on the programme would be implemented in the final company.
“Trinidad and Tobago doesn’t have enough farmers to supply the demand for peppers,” Cadet said. “Based on the information I’ve been able to research, we won’t have that for a number of years, so there is a vibrant market there. As a matter of fact, the food industry in general – I’ve could have chosen root crops, I could have chosen legumes – there is a market in all those areas. We’re not satisfying the local market far less the regional and international markets that exist.”
The National Agricultural Business Training Programme was originally the Atlantic Farmer Enterprise Training Programme which was established in 2010 by Atlantic in partnership with the University of Trinidad and Tobago and the Ministry of Food Production and Land and Marine Affairs. The programme now focuses on the development of “agri-entrepreneurs” in both the Southwest Peninsula and wider Trinidad and Tobago.
Eligible participants on the programme are now able to access loans for their agricultural enterprises through the Lend Agency (Loan for Enterprise and Network Development Agency), which was established by Atlantic in December 2014. The Lend agency targets existing or potential micro-entrepreneurs, who have an interest in small businesses that are not related to the oil and gas sector. Through this agency, which is located in Cedros, eligible persons can access loans necessary to grow their small businesses.
Ninety participants who have graduated from the programme since its inception in 2010 have gone on to streamline existing agricultural enterprises or implement new businesses aligned to 21st century strategies.