Agriculture: “Malcolm Jones Style”

The word ‘agriculture’ seems to fall from the government’s lips these days as frequently as vulgarities emerge from the Prime Minister’s. This should not be taken to mean they intend to stimulate food production. ‘Agriculture’ can mean growing flowers, animal feed, marijuana, etc.

Words like ‘modernising’ and ‘technology’ pepper their remarks. In other words, agricultural production without getting your hands dirty. This is a backward, ignorant approach. Some 80% of humanity’s food is produced on family farms. They may use a tractor or baler, but they don’t scorn Mother Earth. Food isn’t produced by some geek creating an algorithm to raise sheep, but by families who love working the earth – like many small-scale producers in TT.

‘Technology-driven’ farming in TT would, without the slightest shadow of a doubt, end up like one of Malcolm Jones’ blockbuster productions, swallowing dollars like a whale in a school of sardines, and defaecating ecological damage.

According to the report of the World Food Summit held in September, “Industrial agriculture consumes large amounts of pesticides, mineral fertilisers, energy and freshwater resources, and produces large volumes of greenhouse gas emissions. Depleted and salt-affected soils, deforestation and the contamination of entire watercourses, as well as an unprecedented loss of biodiversity are the ecological costs of these advances.”

In TT, technologically-driven food production would require patented ‘high-yielding’ seeds – which would have to be continuously imported from firms like Monsanto. The farmers would not be permitted to save seeds from one crop to plant a new crop. They would be sued for intellectual property violations.

They would have to adhere to Monsanto’s instructions: engage in mono-cropping (even mono-species/variety cropping), which means that one disease can wipe out the whole crop and render all investment fruitless. To avoid that, high levels of Monsanto’s protective chemicals will have to be applied, along with Monsanto’s chemical foods. A lot of water will be needed to apply these chemicals and the run-off will pollute the groundwater. If hydroponic methods are used, the wastage and foreign exchange requirements are greater. And if you need to operate greenhouses to ensure climate control, well… God help TT.

It would be far wiser to adopt the farming models promoted by the agricultural economist, Omardath Maharaj. Tree cropping has great potential. The world is only now waking up to the knowledge of how nutritious the breadfruit is – and it can be produced with no effort.

Trinidad is blessed with fertile soil, abundant sunshine and eager farmers. Producing food for local consumption should be a cinch.

Exports and processing should be carefully considered. Already, the country is making a policy mistake in pushing cocoa production, where the returns are low.

Don’t make other mistakes.

Robin A. Browne