A terminal FOOD market has been launched between Trinidad and Tobago and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines with the aim of improving the distribution of food products, encouraging the exchange of technical expertise and increasing the export of local products.
This is the word of the Minister of Agriculture of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Saboto Caesar, who was in this country last week as part of his country’s delegation for the Forum and Expo on the agricultural investment which took place from Friday to Sunday.
In an interview with Express Business at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Port of Spain, Caesar said now is the time to act and that the food terminal market which was officially launched at the Agri Expo, will promote regional food security and promote additional trade. partnerships and distribution of products between the two countries.
Explaining how the food terminal market will work, he said the market will be linked to a group of agricultural producers, who will be trained in diversification.
“A farmer producing on the farm brings it to the farm and the person who runs the terminal market takes it from the farm in St. Vincent, packs it up and sends it to the food terminal market at T&T. Then the money transfers between the markets of the respective food terminals and the farmers are paid and it is started. What this food terminal marketplace does is ensure that we can move larger quantities at once,” Caesar said.
Trade and agriculture consultant Jai Rampersad, who worked closely with St Vincent to bring the terminal into operation, said that as far as Caricom is concerned, many countries are currently interested in this market.
“At the Food Terminal Market booth at the Agri Expo in Queen’s Park Savannah, over the weekend, we saw a lot of technical groups coming in and asking how it was done, what the process is behind it.
“As they really want to set up a similar model in different countries. So they either want to be part of the food terminal or launch a similar model here as well. So what’s being done with the products, other than educating people about where they’re using from, now becomes very interesting,” Rampersad pointed out.
He said this is the first stop in a series of food market terminals they plan to install in Barbados, Miami, the UK, Canada and New York.
Caesar stepped in and said Rampersad oversees the logistics by which yams, eddoes, sweet potato, dried coconuts, plantain and ginger and value-added products such as jam, jelly, flour (developed in St Vincent) are delivered to T&T from St Vincent via the boat which docks weekly at the Port of Port of Spain.
The minister said St. Vincent’s food import bill was just over $100 million a year and that the goal, as Caricom leaders pointed out at the weekend forum -end, was to reduce the region’s food import bill by 25% by 2025.
“You see, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines is a tourist destination, so we also have to meet their needs and import the foods that suit them.”
César, who has served as Minister of Agriculture since 2011, noted that the goal is to start the food terminal market in other countries so that they can benefit from the movement of goods.
One thing he also pointed out is that some people might say they don’t want Trinidadians to come to St. Vincent to transport produce, but St. Vincent exports to Grenada.
“We are also the largest transporter of livestock and live animals in the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) as an exporter and that is something I don’t want us to sweep under the table, but that we were really talking about, because it is only when we talk about something that we can really address.The region must eliminate the insularity and the antagonism against the internal cross-border movements of Caricom”, underlined Caesar.
Another food product SVG is looking to export to T&T by next year is eggs.
“In some cases this year, we have seen a significant excess of egg production. And we would like to place our eggs in T&T. But since certain protocols and prerequisites must be met, they are wasted. Likewise, we are also expecting more stuff from T&T next year and Jai Rampersad has made an analysis on some items that can be handled in T&T as he already has the factory spaces and power cost for,” did he declare.
A call was made last Friday by the Prime Minister, Dr Keith Rowley, for the private sector to spend time looking to shift its trade and distribution models from overseas food supply to local food supply .
However, Caesar said the private sector cannot be blamed for going international to see where it can get the best returns on its dollar. He said he observed that people in T&T, Barbados and other islands were showing strong interest in investing regionally.
“The private sector has its own role in mobilizing factors of production. Things like going to the banks, buying the latest technology, employing people with the knowledge and expertise, to expand production and business.
“The private sector is the owners of the land that will be largely exploited. Of course, there are public-private partnerships that will be used to strengthen the private sector because there are different levels of investors,” the minister stressed.
According to César, one of the main challenges SVG faces today is the high cost of inputs due to global inflation.
“We saw that due to the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, the price of 100 pounds of fertilizer went from EC$100 per bag to EC$160. And what we had to do was create a grant. There is a significant initiative by Caricom member states to subsidize high fertilizer costs.
“The other problem is the rising price of gasoline. This impacts the overall cost of production and when you have an increase in the price of production, if you weren’t producing in the most efficient way then those inefficiencies multiply which can put you at a disadvantage when you you are competing with goods coming from overseas which may have a better production system,” he explained.
In addition, the minister said there was the problem of aging farming population and praedial flight, lack of modern technology and disease resistant crop varieties and varieties that grow better in this new climate That we have.
César said because certain production sectors are not properly de-risked, for example, there is the absence of insurance. He noted that there is a reluctance on the part of lending institutions to finance agricultural enterprises due to lack of insurance.
“It would be easier to lend money to a civil servant to buy a car than to invest in a greenhouse because of the perceived vagaries of climate change. This mindset needs to change among insurance companies once we change the whole food safety landscape,” he said.