Agricultural economist not sold on Kamla’s sugar revival plan

Date: 
Wednesday, November 20, 2019 - 22:30

The lo­cal agri­cul­tur­al sec­tor has been so bad­ly dec­i­mat­ed over the last sev­er­al decades that any gov­ern­ment who tries to fix it will have to con­sid­er whether or not the cost will be worth the re­turn.

This ac­cord­ing to Agri­cul­tur­al econ­o­mist Omar­dath Ma­haraj in re­sponse to plat­form promis­es by Op­po­si­tion leader Kam­la Per­sad-Bisses­sar to re­vi­talise the lo­cal sug­ar in­dus­try.

Per­sad-Bisses­sar was ad­dress­ing par­ty sup­port­ers at Gopaul Lands in Mara­bel­la dur­ing the Unit­ed Na­tion­al Con­gress’ Mon­day Night Fo­rum when she an­nounced plans for the es­tab­lish­ment of a state-of-the-art co­op­er­a­tive sug­ar man­u­fac­tur­ing com­pa­ny at Usine Ste. Madeleine.

 

Per­sad-Bisses­sar said the new sug­ar com­pa­ny will pur­chase sug­ar­cane grown by pri­vate farm­ers at mar­ket-based prices and will pro­duce raw sug­ar and jag­gery for sale to do­mes­tic and ex­port mar­kets.

“In­vestors will be re­quired to ful­ly fi­nance the build­ing of their sug­ar man­u­fac­tur­ing plant. The Gov­ern­ment will pro­vide all the nec­es­sary sup­port re­quired to fast-track im­ple­men­ta­tion of in­vestors’ plans, as well as the nec­es­sary land or tax in­cen­tives,” she said as she urged vot­ers to choose the UNC at the Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment Elec­tion polls on De­cem­ber 2.

She said since the clo­sure of Ca­roni (1975) Lim­it­ed on Ju­ly 31, 2003, T&T has been spend­ing more than $300 mil­lion an­nu­al­ly im­port­ing sug­ar and sug­ar prod­ucts.

In 2011 when Per­sad-Bisses­sar was Prime Min­is­ter, she spoke about the clo­sure dur­ing the launch of the Sug­ar Her­itage Vil­lage and Mu­se­um Project in Cou­va, say­ing, “The clo­sure of the in­dus­try saw the end of an his­toric era, the frac­tur­ing of their so­cial eco­nom­ic sug­ar cul­ture that was so pro­found­ly en­trenched in the lives of so many cit­i­zens. While we can­not re­store that in­dus­try and the liveli­hood of all these peo­ple, which was the his­tor­i­cal bul­wark of our eco­nom­ic pros­per­i­ty, we can pre­serve the great lega­cy of hard work of our fore­fa­thers in this in­dus­try.”

But con­tact­ed on Tues­day, Ma­haraj who has long been an ad­vo­cate for the lo­cal agri­cul­ture sec­tor said agri­cul­ture has sad­ly be­come one of the least prof­itable parts of this coun­try’s Gross Do­mes­tic Prod­uct (GDP.)

“Of­fi­cial lo­cal sta­tis­tics, with all its lim­i­ta­tions, tell us that agri­cul­ture’s con­tri­bu­tion to GDP is 0.5 per cent. It con­firms that the sec­tor has been dec­i­mat­ed for decades. What, then, is the true cost of re­cov­ery? Can we af­ford the rem­e­dy giv­en the cur­rent dif­fi­cul­ty with rev­enue gen­er­a­tion by the lo­cal econ­o­my, mount­ing pub­lic sec­tor debt, health, in­fra­struc­ture, crime, and all of the oth­er chal­lenges we face as a pop­u­la­tion?” Ma­haraj asked.

He said any gov­ern­ment that in­tends to change this, must step up with ur­gency, in the pub­lic’s in­ter­est, to en­sure that there is val­ue for mon­ey in their ser­vice de­liv­ery.

He said any move to cre­ate a pri­vate-pub­lic part­ner­ship for the sug­ar in­dus­try must al­so be done in a way which does not mir­ror the woes af­fect­ing the rice sec­tor.

“We would not want to see this ap­proach suf­fer sim­i­lar­ly to the rice sec­tor at the mo­ment where NFM, with State in­flu­ence, is con­sid­ered to hold monop­sony pow­er.”

He said it is im­por­tant to note the phys­i­cal el­e­ments of the sug­ar in­dus­try, as well as the peo­ple and so­cial con­structs the in­dus­try were built around,  have all been dis­persed al­though he said all ideas are wel­comed at this stage.

“How­ev­er, the clo­sure and sub­se­quent man­age­ment of the VSEP to for­mer sug­ar work­ers has scarred thou­sands of peo­ple ei­ther di­rect­ly or in­di­rect­ly in this coun­try over the years. At this stage, I think peo­ple are gen­uine­ly in­ter­est­ed in trans­paren­cy, the per­cep­tion of cor­rup­tion, and the ease of do­ing busi­ness in this sec­tor,” Ma­haraj said.

He said he has called for years for a ma­ture so­cial di­a­logue on the is­sues that con­front T&T- in­clud­ing the im­por­ta­tion of taint­ed food.

 

“Aside from the oc­ca­sion­al rhetoric of “eat lo­cal” and “sup­port poor rur­al farm­ers,” the na­tion­al con­ver­sa­tion is mute on im­port­ed food qual­i­ty is­sues such taint­ed food al­le­ga­tions like hon­ey mixed with sug­ar syrup, co­conut wa­ter sub­sti­tut­ed with tap wa­ter and an un­fet­tered street and fast-food trade across the coun­try for ex­am­ple. It is al­so mute in gen­uine­ly dis­cussing if we can, in fact, turn agri­cul­ture and fish­eries in­to our ‘new’ oil and gas.”

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