Gowtam Maharaj stressed that “farming has too many challenges and much needs to done to improve the seeds sold to the farmers which are of a very poor quality. More research needs to be invested in the production of seeds and seedlings but this is not being done by the Ministry of Agriculture.”
A former PETROTRIN employee and Alderman at the Penal Debe Regional Corporation, Gowtam is now a farmer after the closure of PETROTRIN. “More than 5,000 workers and 9,000 contract workers and their families and fence line communities amounting to more than 200,000 people were affected with the closure of PETROTRIN,” said Gowtam.
“The Extension Services of the Ministry of Agriculture is non-functional. The officers lack training and don’t have the resources and equipment to serve efficiently. Critical services like soil testing is not available, “he lamented. “Treating plant diseases is more guess work as famers are at the mercy of chemical agents who simply sell the farmer whatever chemicals they have available.” to farmers.
“Twenty-eight years of service at PETROTRIN went down the drain. I have three children at secondary school to care for, a mortgage to pay and a household to run. It is tough out here. I still have not recovered from that shock,” said Gowtam who lives at Ramsabad Trace, Barrackpore.
A community worker, Gowtam served as President of the Blue Bird Sport and Cultural Organization for the past 16 years. “I have handed over Blue Birds to the youths to continue the journey.” Blue Bird’s pepper roti is a much sort after delicacy at the annual Divali Nagar. With the money raised from the sale of pepper roti Blue BIrd constructed a massive structure that houses a pre-school and a Bal Vihar (Youth Development) program on Sundays. “We have 75 youths participating in our Bal Vihar program,” said Gowtam. “Under my term as President Ram Leela was introduced and this became a much looked forward to event annually.”
“Infrastructure remains a big challenge for farmer. For the past five years the government did nothing in Barrackpore to improve the irrigation and drainage to assist farmers in Barrackpore. “No flood subsidy when crops are drowned. Many farmers invested in green houses but failed to put them into operations,” said Gowtam.
“Soil preparation receives no help from the government. The Ministry has no machinery like ploughs to help farmers. Farmers are on their own, abandoned to search their way out of this maze called agriculture,” Gowtam added.
“Labour continues to be a major challenge. With agricultural wages lower, many youths abandon the field to enter into construction and the public service where the wages are more attractive,” said Gowtam. “While Vene labour are available, they are quite challenging. Language barrier is a major hindrance. A farmer has to always be on the field to ensure that the instructions given are implemented correctly.”
I queried the absence of packing houses but Gowtam retorted that the farmer grows to sell for the market and try to get his produce sold at best price in the shortest time.
Questioned about the role of NAMDEVCO, this was his response. “Though located in Debe, NAMDEVCO offers little or no help to farmers to market their produce. No legislations have been passed to protect farmers engaged in exporting agricultural produce,” he said. “Many exporters ran into difficulties with the clients and there was no help from our foreign missions.”
Asked to rate the performance of Clarence Rambharat, Minister of Agriculture, Gowtam said: “Most disappointed! His performance has been dismal. He does not show any passion for the industry.”
“I had hope in TTABA-Trinidad and TOBAGO Agro-business Association. Sadly, this also went down after less than three years. A UNC victory is the only hope for farmers. This industry has potential for providing employment, food security and generating foreign exchange,” Gowtam concluded.