Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley and Trade Minister Paul Gopee-Scoon have responded to the inspirational story of Leston Rivas who established a thriving cocopeat business after he became jobless last year.
Rivas, 34, of Senon Village, Extension Siparia, has been scouring the country for coconut shells which he dries and uses to make high-grade cocopeat soil, coconut fibre and mulch.
On a breezy hillside in Siparia, he toils with the help of his friends Quinn Barclay and Curlon Carrington, sometimes grating the coconut husks by hand.
With foreign cocopeat almost doubling in price and supplies at an all-time low, Rivas has been producing 60 bags per week even though the demand for his products is much higher.
Rivas does not have a proper shed to dry, sort, grind or store the supplies but he still sells his products at a reasonable price, saving bit by bit to expand his business.
Guardian Media reached out to the Prime Minister, Trade Minister Paula Gopee-Scoon, Agriculture Minister Clarence Rambharat and Local Government Minister Kazim Hosein.
Dr Rowley responded via Whatsapp saying, “I will look into it to see that he is encouraged.” Minister Gopee-Scoon also said, “Thank you for bringing this to my attention. I certainly would have someone listen to his case to best understand his need at this time.”
Rivas told Guardian Media that he was excited that his story had reached the ears of the Prime Minister and the Trade Minister. He said he wanted to build four sheds so he can have a designated area for his operations.
“My dream is to set up a factory next year and to produce cocopeat in a bigger way to support our local farmers and also to one day export our high-quality product,” he said.
Rivas added, “I am hoping the government can assist me by having maybe more farming expos or farming flea markets for entrepreneurs like myself to showcase our skills and products.
This way we can be exposed to a wider cross-section of customers and we can also do more to inspire and encourage young entrepreneurs.”
Rivas said the pandemic had left many without jobs and hope. He recommended that citizens go into farming.
“This is not only therapeutic but it will also reduce your food bill. You do not need a big space to plant crops,” he added.
Saying he dreamed that Rivascocopeat will become a household name.
“I would like the opportunity to market myself so that my product will become a well-known national and international product.
He added, “Rivascocopeat believes in supporting local. My product is more convenient and easier to use because there is no need to hydrate. Rivascocopeat can also help farmers save money on pesticides and certain soil treatments because cocopeat is naturally antifungal and antibacterial. It is made right here in Trinidad so it is fresher and will take longer to break down.”
Rivas said he plans to send an email to the Trade Minister thanking her and the Prime Minister for reaching out. He also hopes to get his farmers badge. Anyone wanting to contact Rivas can call 306-5826.
Reporter: RADHICA DE SILVA