Friday 30 October, 2020

Ministry to give seeds to 50,000 households for home crops

Approximately 50,000 homes in Trinidad and Tobago will receive seeds for local crops to encourage food sustainability, said Minister of Agriculture, Land and Fisheries, Clarence Rambharat. 

Rambharat was speaking with Franka Phillip and Ardene Sirjoo on food sustainability for local podcast Over the Hump.

"I saw an upsurge in interest in kitchen gardens and home gardens and people wanting seeds. Long before COVID-19, we've been working on something related to that."

"We are going to distribute to 50,000 households across the country, six different types of seeds. These are traditional, local varieties that we are accustomed with.

The seeds were obtained from the country's seed bank and consist of crops such as bodi, seim, baigan, pumpkin, corn and sorrel. The seeds are already pre-packed and will have a guide as to which seeds are which.

"There'll be an instruction leaflet which tells you how to plant each of them. It's supported by materials available on Facebook about where to plant etc."

He said planting season is approaching which would be an optimal time for growing these crops. 

He said it's hoped the distribution can take place through MPs, ministry officers and other methods. 

He said the Ministry is also working on giving out information on farming to households to help them with growing their produce. 

He added that local kitchen gardens can also include local herbs and other herbal remedies to encourage better health, and promote healthy exercise. 

He said ensuring a local food supply is critical to supporting the population during the current stay-at-home measures but said certain imported staples must continue, such as flour and rice, which the country does not produce. 

He said importations have not been majorly affected in any way to date but noted that no one knows how long the pandemic will last.

"We don't know how long this will last...it's affecting everybody in every strata of society around the world."

"Now is not the time to cut off our supply of rice, sugar, cooking oil, grain, etc. These are the things we are reliant on as a country. This is what we are accustomed consuming and I'm not going to do anything to interfere with that."

He said importation of poultry such as chicks, ducklings, meat and other items from countries such as the US and Canada might affect local supplies but said luckily the country is mostly self-sufficient in producing its own table eggs. 

He said with regard to the surplus crops, refrigerated storage has been made available through NAMDEVCO, free of charge, for up to one million pounds of produce. 

"That will help us to conserve the excess, extend the shelf life and have production going forward as we move in the planting period." 

He also emphasised the importance of keeping local markets open to ensure adequate food supply to the public.

"Those markets, the farmers markets that operate at different times and locations, that is where the food passes through. It was an important decision that those markets remain open."

He said at least a quarter of a billion dollars in produce passes through the Macoya and Debe wholesale markets annually and it is critical that those markets remain open. 

"Everything related to agriculture (is essential), all those things remain open. That is very critical to ensuring that food continues to flow in the country and more importantly making sure farmers are able to have an income and provide for their families. There's a loss of business but there's not a collapse of business."

He said however due to stay-at-home measures some opening hours of local markets have changed. The public is urged to follow NAMDEVCO's social media channels for the latest updates on market operations. 

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