Focused on Food Sovereignty and Entrepreneurship – UWI to host Eat Local Day!

Focused on Food Sovereignty and Entrepreneurship – UWI to host Eat Local Day!

Strengthening the linkages among education, research and outreach; the Faculty of Food and Agriculture will strategically partner with the National 4-H Leaders Council to build a “farm to school” movement by supporting several aspects of capacity building, resource development and sharing, professional development, policy development and advocacy in the local food and agriculture sector.

Dean of the Faculty, Professor Wayne Ganpat, emphasized his focus on food sovereignty notwithstanding the mounting challenges such as climate change, poverty, rural neglect, food and nutrition security, entrepreneurship and the range of issues which impact the future of our food. He commits that Eat Local Day extends the Faculty’s recent partnership with BreadfruitTrees.com on World Food Day which initiated an on-going exercise to plant 105 food trees to assist in securing the Campus community in times of disaster but also to demonstrate a model which can be adopted by other stakeholders at the national and community level.

Eat Local Day formally began in 2012 with the Tableland Pineapple Farmers Association and other key stakeholders as one of several grassroots initiatives in celebration of our 50th anniversary of Independence. The 4-H Leaders Council became a key partner in 2014. The hosting and location of the celebration have since moved nationally from agricultural estates, fishing communities, to schools, and now to the University’s Field Station. This year, the focus is on Celebrating our Entrepreneurial Potential.

The Faculty and by extension the University Field Station provides technical resources, land, building, and equipment to support field-based research and teaching. Between 1949 and 1962 the Station was maintained as a commercial farm to support teaching exercises of the Imperial College of Tropical Agriculture (ICTA). At present, in addition to supporting teaching and research, it undertakes commercial activities whenever possible.

The livestock, root crops, tropical tree crops, machinery and equipment, and other facilities present an ideal backdrop for this activity. It also directly supports the focus of entrepreneurship by demonstrating production models, breeds and genetics, agri-food products and dimensions of farming and processing which are otherwise unavailable in any one location.

Over 300 school children and their respective 4-H clubs have registered to attend on Wednesday – each with a local fruit – to benefit from an array of 100% locally produced food, beverages, displays and sampling courtesy National Agricultural Marketing and Development Corporation (NAMDEVCO), Kent Farms, AJs Premium Homemade Ice Cream (TTMA’s Small Manufacturer of the Year Awardee 2018), Fisheries Division (Aquaculture Unit), Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture, Field Naturalists’ Club, and Mike’s Coconut Oil and Copra Products. They will also be engaged by special features from UWI graduates – Tahlia Ali (Nutrition – Healthy Eating and Lifestyles), Carissa Nanan (Psychology – Bullying and Social Behaviour), and Meena Jadoonanan (Personal Hygiene and Food Safety) as well as renowned calypsonian Ras Kommanda.

Natasha Lee, President of the Council, advocates that “there must be a genuine drive for the education of young minds with the endless possibilities of their food which can be produced from strictly local content.” Among all that is planned, she intends to feature the fading skill of making farine, substituting for healthier local options such as roucou for sugar in stew, a collection of roots and herbs instead of curry powder, less refined starches and greater use of provisions.

Championing “Eat Local” demands the inclusion of all of us in Trinidad and Tobago with specific roles. In addition to re-building the national psyche for many different reasons; it continues to be the approach of representative groups in the sector to seek partnerships to find solutions but it is critical to anchor all of this through inclusive policy development.

At a national level, we have arguably failed to invest in the productive capacity of the agriculture sector to meet the needs of industry in processing and food manufacturing. We have also failed to develop the sub-sectors in which we may possess a comparative and competitive advantage such as basic fruits and vegetables, meats, provisions, and staple crops such as rice or food mass sources such as Breadfruit. We can also link the compromising availability and cost of planting material locally to increased taste and preferences for imported foods, our inability to meaningfully activate any import-substitution strategy, our inability to create sufficient agri-food surplus to maintain export markets and therefore being a constraint to economic diversification.

The World Health Organization, local statistics and research often warn about the rising incidence of non-communicable diseases especially among our school-age population. This is a clear indication to all of us, including policy-makers, that we must do more to put locally-produced fruits, vegetables, livestock and seafood on our tables in a wholesome and affordable manner.

For many years much lip service has been paid to the importance of the agriculture and fisheries sector and its far-reaching links to sustainable livelihoods, rural development, environment, health, diversified economy, and overall food and nutrition security for Trinidad and Tobago. This event provides an avenue to engage public opinion, especially our children and consumers but ensures that local food is not marketed in a manner to be perceived as punishment in comparison to imported and trendy lunch box meals.

Firm policy positions are needed to directly foster production and to build comparative advantage in value addition but as well to regain trust and goodwill among the stakeholders of the sector. Giving respect must be seen as reciprocal in the struggle for national food security and sovereignty. Corporate and citizen support is also critical for the survival and success of the sector. That support is also essential to grassroots initiatives which seek to break the cycle of poverty in rural and fishing communities and as well in seeking to educate on the importance of the local agriculture and fisheries sector.

We must find creative, innovative and attractive methods to get greater local content into the national diet.

Eat Local Day by design seeks to bring together several stakeholders and interests. This collaborative approach is also entrenched in small and micro-enterprise (SME) clustering or nucleated development. Agriculture is a business. The common problems of SMEs impact on their ability to produce at economies of scale, expand their market base, explore niche and export markets, and generate much needed foreign exchange and employment. Consideration of the economic value of agri-related SMEs and their success to the local economy must not be forgone.

Amidst all of our efforts to sustainably and consistently educate the national taste bud to desire knowing where their food comes from, how it is produced, and to respect the circumstances of the men and women who work to feed us – the scenario changes from promoting demand for local food to requiring urgent investigations of the supply capacity of our local food systems to sustain 1.3 million people.

While we recognize that these seasonal one-off activities are seen as inconsequential to the cause by some, the message of countrymen and kinship, healthy eating and lifestyles, agriculture as empowerment, education as freedom and the socio-economic reality of many will live on.

Omardath Maharaj

Agricultural Economist / Instructor

Invitation: Please note that all media are kindly invited to give coverage to Eat Local Day on Wednesday 11 December from 9:00AM to 1:00PM at the University Field Station.

  • At 11:00AM Professor Ganpat will launch the newest livestock production project.

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