The unimaginative Budget statement with specific regards to the Agricultural sector can be considered at best as having been plagiarized incorrectly from previous budget statements and will be doomed for imminent and total failure. The Budget statement of the obvious only serves to reinforce the unqualified incompetence of the government. The measures outlined by the Minister of Finance will NOT have any impact on the Food Import Bill nor will it arrest the decline in the Agricultural Sector.
The government’s indication that it has the Agricultural sector as one of the sectors to diversify the economy is not matched by the fiscal allocation nor the initiatives required. The sector will continue to languish under this PNM Administration as it has been doing for the last two years.
The announcement of the Minister recounting the achievements of the Ministry of Agriculture only enumerated the routine activities of the Ministry that would have been performed regardless of political administration.
The announcement of strategic linkages with CEPEP is hollow as July 01, 2013 the CEPEP Company Limited partnered with the Ministry of Food Production through the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), as a step to alleviate labour shortage issues in the agricultural sector. Similarly August 2015 the Ministry of Agriculture assisted in the development and commissioning of T&T’s cocoa industry with the establishment of a state-of-the-art cocoa processing facility on La Reunion Estate in Centeno, Trinidad.
The Minister of Finance stated that “to increase local food production, we need many more full-time dedicated farmers and we therefore need to encourage persons to take up farming as a career and as a business”. Yet the Youth Apprenticeship Programme in Agriculture (YAPA) which was aimed at precisely this objective has been under resourced with this Budget.
The grants for new and existing farmers of up to $100,000 announced is essentially duplicating the work of the Agricultural Development Bank. This bank is Government by statute, and under Section 34(b) of its Act the ADB already has the power to ‘grant or underwrite loans for the development of agriculture, commercial fishing and industries connected to such persons;’
By now taking this grant funding away from the lawfully constituted Agricultural Development Bank to have “applications will be reviewed by a panel of experienced and successful farmers and agricultural entrepreneurs, who will make recommendations to a Ministerial Committee” will only serve to politicize the process and serve as another slush fund for the Government.
The Minister of Finance’s contribution on Agriculture is a statement of the obvious and provides no real direction, incentives or leadership for the agricultural sector to even crawl out of the woeful neglect it has been made to suffer under the last two years of an incompetent Minister of Agriculture.
Despite paying lip-service at the Prime Ministerial Spotlight Consultation and in the Budget that the Agricultural Sector is one of the areas of focus it is not reflected in the meagre budgetary allocation. There is also the absence of serious measures to treat with the issues facing the sector which only highlights the fact that not only does the government does not have a clue of what to do but also that it is prepared to continue to fool the citizens.