Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley enjoys a cup of fresh cane juice from Romulas Ramoutar during the opening of Moruga Agro-Processing and Light Industrial Park in Moruga yesterday.

Sascha Wilson

As he officially opened the first agro-processing plant in the country yesterday, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley said it was a gift to the people of south Trinidad.

During his feature address at the opening of the $90 million Moruga Agro-Processing And Light Industrial Park, Rowley said the operation will generate thousands of jobs and will increase food supply and improve food security in the country.

Taking a jab at his critics, Rowley said there has been much talk about investment in the agricultural sector but his Government had finally delivered.

“That should come as a surprise to many people because when you consider the amount of talk about agriculture in this country, one would have thought that somewhere in Trinidad and Tobago, agro-processing would have demanded that a park specialised for that purpose would exist somewhere.”

He said many of those who talk about agriculture actually know nothing about the sector.

“But we have moved from talk and today we have moved the needle considerably from talking about agriculture to doing something about agriculture in Trinidad and Tobago because this park is a catalyst to attract…the use of agricultural products, primary products that can be and will be produced in this part of the country.”

He said products will be produced in significant volumes, making it either easily available to the rest of the country as fresh produce, packaged for it to last longer on the shelves and/or be exported. He said five years ago he made a campaign promise to the people of Moruga for change and opportunity in exchange for their support and the park has now presented them with an opportunity to get on the bandwagon of production in T&T.

“It is for you to chew now, it is in your mouth, it in your hands,” he advised them.

However, the Prime Minister said the Government has not only invested in infrastructure but has also given incentives in the agricultural sector to encourage production.

“Tax-free in agriculture because it is so important that the nation be fed and understanding that we are underperforming in agriculture production, that this incentive of a tax break has been given and exists,” Rowley said.

He singled out cocoa beans and pineapples as two products with significant potential for growth and the creation of a significant number of jobs.

“Do you also know as you should, here in T&T some of the best pineapples are grown in this country. So then why are we importing pineapple when we have the potential to grow and supply to those pizza companies?”

While millions of dollars are spent on importing pineapple, he said they have a commitment from businessmen on the Road Map to Recovery that they will purchase pineapple locally once it is available on a sustained basis.

“There is a commitment from Phase One of the Road Map to Recovery post-COVID that those who import have said we want to work with the local farmers, the local producers, to ensure that they produce pineapple and we will buy from that instead of importing,” he said.

“All we want from them is a commitment to produce so that when we need it it is available, so you have to produce more on a sustained basis … That is only one crop. So instead of seeing $30 million in imports at the end of the year of somebody else’s pineapple, we might see and we should see $30 million of product in Trinidad and Tobago and we should have pineapple for export because Trinidad and Tobago, we should become well known around the world with a market for that high-quality product that can be produced right here in Trinidad and Tobago.

“So we create opportunity. What this investment is is opportunity.”

Noting some of their other investments in agriculture, Rowley said the Government has provided tens of thousands of planting material to farmers and they have set about increasing livestock production.

Encouraging farmers and entrepreneurs to make full use of the facility, which is situated on 18 acres of land, he added, “This is a gift from the people of Trinidad and Tobago to our fellow citizens of the south coast.”

The Prime Minister assured that the country was on the road to diversification and food security. Also speaking at the event was Minister of Trade Paula Gopee-Scoon, who said the project was financially viable and more than 50 individuals and entities had already shown interest in it.