There are plans for more than 400 farmers to cultivate 6,000 acres of unused land in North East and South East Trinidad, Food Production Minister Devant Maharaj has announced. Speaking at the re-commissioning ceremony for the ministry’s Plant Propagation Station at Marpar Farms in Plum Mitan, Manzanilla, Maharaj said plants from the propagation station will be ready in a few months for the ambitious project which is expected to generate hundreds of new jobs, including more than 100 jobs at the Marpar Farms.
Maharaj said local agriculture will get a boost and he predicts there will be a gradual reduction in the price of fresh local fruits. He said because of the high costs of young trees, many people are staying away from getting involved in tree crop production.
The minister said in some instances seedling trees can sell for as much as $90 a plant, which is a major disincentive for people interested in this type agriculture. He said because of the high cost of locally grown citrus, school feeding caterers are now supplying apples in the lunches instead of oranges. He said Mapar will be supplying high quality plants of the best genetic potential at reasonable costs.
“Mapar Farms once held a reputation for having the best planting materials. It produced the widest collection of cocoa germplasm world over and functioned as a major part of global conservation efforts in cocoa, mango, avocado, banana and citrus genetic resources.” He said the station was closed down in 1994. In 1992 the Poole substation was closed and the La Pastora propagation station was downsized.
Maharaj said because of this farmers had to wait as much as five years for a limited supply of seedlings, or had to face the open market and pay exorbitant prices for seedlings. He said the ministry has done a considerable amount of infrastructural work at Marpar Farms, including construction of seven greenhouses. Production of seedling and plants are well underway.
The minister said the agriculture sector expanded by 5.1 per cent this year and its contribution to GDP increased by 77 per cent from 2009 to 2013. He said there has been a two per cent reduction in the food import bill and food inflation stands at three per cent as of September 2013. Currently at Mapar there are:
• 50,000 citrus seedlings
• 20,000 citrus plants
• 15,000 mango seedlings
• 2,000 mango plants
• 160 grafted mango seedlings with 80 varieties introduced from Florida.
• 2,000 avocado seedlings
• 15,000 banana suckers.
Maharaj said the facility is operated by 38 daily paid workers and 23 on-the-job trainees. He said the labour capacity is expected to increase with the hiring of an additional 85 daily paid workers.