Development & Aid, Headlines

DEVELOPMENT-TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO: A Nation Tries to Feed Itself

Wesley Gibbings

PORT OF SPAIN, Nov 20 1997 (IPS) - Trinidad and Tobago is recording some progress in fighting one of the more pervasive problems of Caribbean territories — the inability of small countries to adequately feed themselves.

Experts here are finding that in addition to rendering existing modes of production more efficient, new alternative bases of production can provide a viable source of local food and increase, in turn, the sector’s contribution to exports.

The 3,000 year old practice of aquaculture has been specifically targeted for exploitation by the Institute of Marine Affairs (IMA) which is looking at improving old modes of production and introducing new approaches.

IMA researcher Paul Gabbadon says aquaculture offers the country the option of “sustaining production, maintaining businesses and a way to generate income.”

“It offers a viable means of producing food and aquatic products for profit without detrimental effects to the environment,” he says. He points to the fact that aquaculture now produces 15 percent of the world’s fish and more than 25 percent of the shrimp market.

Total world production is more than 2.2 billion pounds annually, representing more than 20 billion dollars a year.

“The shortfall in marine fisheries stock, the effects of pollution on existing stocks and the unavailability of some products locally … emphasise the importance of aquaculture for future development,” Gabbadon says.

“Trinidad and Tobago has good potential for aquaculture production and possesses many of the resources required to support a growing aquaculture industry,” he says. “These resources include but are not limited to … good water, solids with substantial clay content, flat terrain, a long growing season, access to markets, infrastructure, funding and technical expertise.”

Research here has covered many areas. There have been studies on hatchery methodologies, production systems and the marketing of aquaculture products for local available species. The products being looked at include the black conch, cascadura, tilapia and freshwater prawns.

Gabbadon says there is much interest in these areas and, already, a few producers are involved in commercial endeavours.

He however believes that some opportunities are going abegging. “The sad fact is that farmers, entrepreneurs and businessmen have not grasped the opportunities for this non-traditional crop or business venture.”

In traditional areas, though, there have been improvements. The country’s food import bill is, according to the Basdeo Panday administration, on a path of consistent decline after reaching 2.2 million dollars last year and accounting for under 13 percent of all imports.

The ratio is skewed because of increases on a number of other import accounts, but forecasts of a further fall in the cost of all food imports for 1997 are matched by improvements in agricultural outputs.

In 1996, local agricultural output improved by seven percent and in the first quarter of this year the sector improved its income by 14 percent over the same period last year.

“I firmly believe that we should continue to attract more people into agriculture to enhance the purchasing power of the peoples of the rural communities,” Panday told agriculturalists recently.

But researchers are stressing that the vision of what the sector constitutes has to be expanded. “Aquaculture is an alternative means of food production, a business and an opportunity for the future,” Gabbadon says.

He however advises that there are risks. “Aquaculture is much more than stocking fish in a pond,” he says. It is a risky and sometimes expensive form of agriculture.”

He identifies under-capitalisation, a failure to realise that the product is a live animal, poor marketing practices and poor management as the main obstacles. “Intensive fish culture requires 24 hour per day management and, unless you are willing to provide this type of management, you should look to another enterprise,” Gabbadon says.

 
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