President of the Agricultural Society of Trinidad and Tobago (ASTT) and outgoing chairman of the National Agricultural Marketing and Development Corporation (NAMDEVCO) Wendy Lee Yuen yesterday expressed a concern that there was a "conspiracy" among rice importers to artificially inflate the price of rice.
Lee Yuen was speaking to the Express following a meeting with Legal Affairs Minister Danny Montano convened which the minister convened to discuss issues surrounding the increased production of root crops or "ground provision" as an alternative to rice. Montano had made a public call for the population to turn to root crops as an alternative to rice, as a response to the recent twenty per cent increase in the price of rice.
Lee Yuen explained that although "importers say that the rice from Belize, Suriname and Guyana, which enters Trinidad duty-free, is not of good enough quality", those countries continue to export in huge volumes.
"If the rice isn't good, how come they continue to produce such huge quantities. Let the people decide if they want the cheaper rice, or if they don't want it."
Also present at the meeting were representatives from the Ministry of Agriculture, the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organisation, the Food Crop Farmers' Association, the School Nutrition Programme, the Supermarket Association and the Housewife Association.
Lee Yuen identified three projected benefits of the proposed programme to expand root crop production.
"These root crops have a much higher nutritional value than pasta, flour or rice. They are your complex carbohydrates, loaded with fibre. It's a cheaper alternative to rice and flour. And you have to look at the creation of jobs in the agricultural sector."
Lee Yuen said, "Statistics do show that poor people do eat more of the root crops. For some poor people, they don't have a stove that you can turn down, or a collander that where you can strain excess water. It's easier to boil dasheen or cassava. We have to appreciate the fact that there are people in our population who prepare food over a wood fire with very simple implements.
Calling for a radical shift from subsistence agriculture into 21st-century technology-aided agronomy, Lee Yuen has proposed that some of the Caroni lands be a site dedicated specifically to the production of high-yielding varieties of root crop, "I will support eating anything that we grow locally, as opposed to anything that we have to import. Any local produce that we purchase contributes to building our own local economy. It does not go to subsidise farmers in other parts of the world."