President of Agriculture Society of Trinidad and Tobago (ASTT) Dhano Sookoo is fearful that the local agriculture sector will shut down due to COVID19.
Speaking to Guardian Media yesterday, Sookoo said, “the agriculture local production is going to shut down because when farmers cannot recover their investments, they have loans to pay, they have families still to support they are not beneficiaries of the National Insurance Board benefit program and they cannot access the unemployment relief grant and social services.”
She added: “At this time there is excessive lost because remember people are restricted in their movement that is one Two, according to the Minister of Social Services, they give out 75,000 food cards each to the value of $500. Many of these people even if they had liquid cash in their hand they would have gone and supported the community vegetable stall and local markets and vendors and you would have a lot of local produce being bought. However, when they are given the food cards those can only be tendered at a supermarket”, she said.
“When they go into the supermarkets they will be purchasing imported products,” Sookoo said.
The ASTT President said she cannot quantify the losses but said she knows there is over one million pounds of watermelon or more out on the fields. She reported that corn farmers also have a glut of produce with some in excess of over 100 thousand heads of corn to harvest.
“The volume is there because the sales are not there”, she said
Sookoo said that to keep her farmers motivated she and her directors are currently visiting farmers and lending moral support.
“We are also using social media to market some of the produce and to get households to get access to fresh local produce and we are pushing a buy local campaign,” she said.
“I questioned that the thousands of hampers are given out everyday, how much in those hampers are actually locally produce goods, is there any bodi, pumpkin, bhagi, ochros, watermelon and is there cucumbers… how many are in those hampers,” Sookoo said.
The ASTT president said people can manage for two weeks with three pounds of pumpkin, a bundle of bodi, two dozen ochro and a bundle of callaloo bush, describing it as a good healthy nutritious vegetable supply at a cost of around $300.
Sookoo said she is seeing thousands of hampers being distributed but said those hampers are in no way supporting local farmers.