Call for Farming Innovations

Call for Farming Innovations

Photo : Agricultural Economist Omardath Maharaj

9th May 2018: Innovative interventions needed for vulnerable areas and among disparate groups given the level, nature, and exposure to crime in T&T

I attended a recent "Sensitization Session for Non-Profit Organizations in relation to Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing" hosted by the Ministry of the Attorney General and Legal Affairs (MoAGLA) with the Chairman of the Tableland Pineapple Farmers Association (TPFA), Ramash Ramsumair, to support the farmers capacity building and institutional strengthening as national advocates and a civil society organization. The knowledge and information obtained in the sessions and through interactions and collaborations were taken to the farmers’ meeting last weekend.

While farmers have made their way to urban-centric fora over the years; it remains a challenge to benefit from similar outreach and education in rural and vulnerable areas and among disparate groups. Innovative and collaborative effort must be pursued to increase the understanding and extent of financial inclusion and financial literacy given the level, nature, and exposure to crime in T&T.

The TPFA does not benefit from State financial support, however, the Association was grateful for the MoAGLA recognition and invitation as a stakeholder.

In fact, the Board of Directors of the organization is comprised of farmers, all farmers are significant, but these are among, if not the largest, pineapple producers in the country and by extension, are the movers and shakers of the sub-sector.

The national population is aware of the outreach activities, public education, awareness, and advocacy pursued by the organization and myself, voluntarily. However, as an organization constrained by rural neglect and an administrative bureaucracy that does not emphasize agriculture on the national development agenda, we have commanded international attention.

You may recall Trinidad farmers and the Tableland Sugarloaf Pineapple being featured on the globally broadcasted Sesame Street recently. Connecting with hundreds of millions of people in 150 countries around the world opens the door to different characters in audiences, both internationally and locally. Importantly, contact was made with the TPFA via social media and so too other international collaborations, and involving other similar groups such as the Felicity Charlieville Fishing Association (FCFA).

While there is an official "Framework to Guide the Relationship between the Government and Non-Governmental Organizations for the Delivery of Social Services in Trinidad and Tobago (2007)," an Inter-Ministerial Grants Committee, and although each Ministry's mandate dictates the stakeholders they can and should support; there was no mention and perhaps no intimate connection to the outreach efforts of farming, fishing and other similar organizations.

I have long advocated the need for an overarching national policy framework for sustainable agriculture and rural development which should also support and coordinate the sustainability of farmer, fisherfolk, and other representative groups and organizations and their public education and outreach efforts. Efforts born by the bare hands of farmers and fishers such as the National Fruit Festival, Eat Local Day, Land Labs, activities in schools and other public engagements have gone unsupported.

The TPFA is also in collaboration with the Intellectual Property Office, MoAGLA to pursue geographic indication (GI) for the Tableland Sugarloaf Pineapple. While this has multiple benefits such as country branding, promoting rural development, and legal protection; it also assists in securing a greater price premium and economic activity for rural farmers and the organization.

Creating new business opportunities and an appetite for international trade further exposes vulnerable groups to exploitation and financial crimes. This underscores the need for education but also increasing the sensitivity of our institutions to the new reality.

In 2013/2014, while at the Seafood Industry Development Company (SIDC), we were able to partner with the Central Bank and other State agency resources to create and deliver a Financial Empowerment Programme for Fishing Communities. The intention was to build the capacity of stakeholders through supporting the development of sustainable and profitable community-based business enterprises. The effort was aimed at bringing about positive qualitative and quantitative changes in the lives of farming and fishing communities hitherto left largely outside of any support from formal institutions.

There was a shared understanding that interventions such as these would be to educate all stakeholders who would not have been able to access formal education channels to develop financial knowledge and skills. Therefore, in attempting to deal with the socio-economic issues experienced, the importance of a financial empowerment programme cannot be underestimated.

Financial awareness will assist our stakeholders by improving their productivity, increasing flexibility to deal with change and crisis, and facilitating the diversification of their livelihoods. Research has identified a lack of financial literacy as a major contributing factor to financial exclusion of individuals and groups in the community. It affects quality of life, opportunities we can pursue, our sense of security and the overall economic health of our society.

By developing confidence, knowledge and skills to manage financial products and services, citizens will be better able to overcome or avoid financial exclusion. Such exclusion impacts on the opportunities individuals can pursue, their sense of security and their overall emotional and physical well-being.

Unfortunately, with the passing of time and people, ideals and vision tend to change. Little or no institutional memory or sensitivity to the evolving reality and urgency related to sustainable development in small island developing states like T&T are to be seen by way of interventions related to farming and fishing communities.

We hope that the outcome is that farmers and rural people understand and benefit from the basic tenets of financial inclusion, are able to recognize and avoid financial exploitation, practice proper financial management and, within their own remit, are able to meet the expectations of accountability, clarity, and transparency.

Yours truly

Omardath Maharaj

Agricultural Economist

Please contact 683-1173