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Sod turned for $70m agri park

Farmers complain about labour shortages
Thursday, May 10, 2018
Moruga/Tableland MP Lovell Francis, left, with Minister of Trade and Industry Paula Gopee-Scoon, chairman of UDECOTT Noel Garcia and chairman of eTeck Imtiaz Ahamad turn the sod for the Moruga Agro-Processing Park, Saunders Road, Moruga yesterday. PICTURE RISHI RAGOONATH

After a four-month delay, construction has finally started on a $70 million Agro-Processing and Light Industrial Park in Moruga geared at revitalising the agricultural sector. However, farmers say unless the severe labour shortage is addressed, there may not be adequate produce for processing.

During the sod turning ceremony at Saunders Trace, Moruga yesterday, Trade Minister Paula Gopee-Scoon said the park will be completed by March next year. Five factory shells will be built and 18 lots prepared to accommodate businesses of all sizes. The parks will facilitate processing of fish, food, bakery products, pasta products, confectionery items and beverages.

There will also be facilities for canning, bottling and freezing of finished products.

The minister said diversification will bring employment to the people of Moruga and the Government chose that area because it was once a thriving agricultural community.

“This is an initiative which dovetails with diversification. We are committed to the national development strategy and agro processing is one of them. The Moruga fishing port will commence shortly and the produce that comes from that port will fit in to the agro processing facility right here on the 18 lot park,” Gopee-Scoon said.

Executive member of the Tableland Pineapple Farmers Association Ralph Rampersad said while the project will provide a market for produce and enable farmers to get better prices, problems of labour shortages, high cost of agro-chemicals and praedial larceny are crippling the sector.

“Already many farmers have abandoned their estates or gone into other projects,” Rampersad said.

He said locals are not willing to do farming and suggested that a farm-out programme be developed to get Venezuelans and other foreign labourers to work in the agriculture.

“I am fully supportive of foreign labour in our local market because our local people are not interested in farming and agriculture. Labour is one of the scarcest commodities in T&T right now.

Nobody wants to get into private sector, everyone wants to be in the public sector and get handouts,” Rampersad said.

He said many landowners were already using foreign labourers because their work ethic and production figures are far superior to local labour.

Approached for comment on concerns raised by Rampersad, president of the Tableland/Pineapple Farmers Association Ramash Ramsumair was reluctant to comment.

“Ask the minister whether the park will have the capacity,” he said and declined further comment.

Tableland/Moruga MP Dr Lovell Francis said a structured farm-out programme was something the Government could consider.

“It is nothing that I can speak on because it is not my portfolio but it is something that we can discuss at the government level,” Francis said.

Yesterday’s function was also attended by Agriculture Minister Clarence Rambharat and chairman of eTecK Imitiaz Ahamad.


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