Wednesday 23 October, 2019

Budget 2020: Agri company challenges Imbert to invest in food sector

WHYFARM Executive Director Alpha Sennon plants seedlings at the City School Yard Garden in Amsterdam. Photo courtesy Alpha Sennon.

WHYFARM Executive Director Alpha Sennon plants seedlings at the City School Yard Garden in Amsterdam. Photo courtesy Alpha Sennon.

“Put your money where your mouth is.”

That’s the sentiment expressed by WHYFARM founder and Executive Director Alpha Sennon ahead of the 2020 Budget which will be presented by Finance Minister Colm Imbert in the Parliament on Monday.

Speaking with LoopTT at the World Cocoa and Chocolate Festival at the Hyatt Regency Hotel and Conference Centre on Saturday, Sennon called for greater emphasis to be placed on agriculture, particularly when it comes to creating future sustainable employment for the nation’s youth.

WHYFARM Executive Director Alpha Sennon conducts tours with future agripreneurs at his farm in Siparia.

“The ideal budget allocation would be one that could support youth and could support innovation, support the agricultural sector from the ground up. We are focused too much on the older farmers… and the focus isn’t where it should be – which is on creating younger farmers.”

“We need to focus on our agripreneurs, on new business. Focus on developing and executing those 21st century ideas to create sustainable and systemic change with our food sector.”

Noting that successive budgets have seen the lion’s share allocated to National Security, the WHYFARM CEO said the time has come for the country’s leaders to be proactive rather than reactive and place agriculture and food security on the front burner.

He suggested that a more substantial investment in agriculture could assist in treating with crime as programmes geared toward youth would encourage their involvement in food production and prevent them from turning to a life of lawlessness.  

“We are working with Vision on Mission to help our young people… investing in agri-business, food processing and related ventures will ensure that these young men will be able to find that love for agriculture and plant that seed in the ground.”

He lamented that too much money has been spent on acquiring new weapons and building new prisons and police stations in a reactive approach to crime-fighting, when even a fraction of those funds could have been put to better use in the agriculture sector where initiatives would bear fruit and see quantifiable results.  

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In this regard, he stressed the importance of a shift in focus to investment in programmes to promote entrepreneurship and health and wellness among the population in treating with agriculture and food security.

“We need to be investing in zero-waste campaigns, investing in health and nutrition campaigns, investing in innovation campaigns, programmes, value-chains, helping young people tell their stories on a global stage.

Food and agriculture is always looked at in this one dimension so money just goes into helping farmers recoup losses after flood destroys their crops.”

Sennon, who recently spoke on global food and nutrition security at a TEDx event in Amsterdam said Trinidad and Tobago could benefit from lessons learnt from other countries in treating with agricultural development by adopting some of their agricultural practices and programmes.

“We need to be thinking plant to the pack, seed to the snack,” he added.

Alpha Sennon speaks at the Thought For Food Summit in Amsterdam.

The WHYFARM CEO said food security should be Government’s priority and the 2020 Budget should reflect this in some measure, rather than the business-as-usual approach taken under successive administrations.

Given recent conversations, however, Sennon said he is cautiously optimistic about what will be allocated for agriculture in the 2020 Budget.

“We need to put our money where our mouth is. If your mouth is on diversification and innovation via agriculture but you are not putting your money there, then talk is talk.”

“We need a multifaceted, multipronged approach to achieve the economic turnaround we are trying to see. We need Government to provide that support and investment in agriculture in this year’s budget.”

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