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September 9, 2022

Food se­cu­ri­ty and re­duc­ing the food im­port bill are among the main is­sues the Caribbean Su­per­mar­ket As­so­ci­a­tion (CSA) in­tends to tack­le. Speak­ing at the CSA’s in­au­gu­ra­tion at Krave Restau­rant in Mara­bel­la yes­ter­day, CSA’s chair­man Ra­jiv Diptee ex­plained,

“The Caribbean Su­per­mar­ket As­so­ci­a­tion is a pri­vate-led ini­tia­tive where we are seek­ing to find so­lu­tions with­in the val­ue chain to en­sure that food se­cu­ri­ty re­mains a crit­i­cal pri­or­i­ty and cre­ate im­port sub­sti­tute strate­gies for how we see a re­duc­tion in the food im­port bill.”

He said they are al­so work­ing to­wards mak­ing the prices of goods and ser­vices more ac­ces­si­ble, es­pe­cial­ly in the present sit­u­a­tion where they are fac­ing con­tin­u­ing chal­lenges with the ship­ping cost, for­eign ex­change and oth­er is­sues.

Diptee said in the in­ter­im they have as­sem­bled a team to work with the pri­vate sec­tor or­gan­i­sa­tion, var­i­ous arms and min­istries with­in Cari­com.

Not­ing that the food im­port bill in Trinidad and To­ba­go is TT$5 bil­lion and US$6 bil­lion re­gion­al­ly, Vas­ant Bharath, vice chair­man, said there is a sig­nif­i­cant amount of for­eign ex­change leav­ing the re­gion and build­ing for­eign farms and farm­ers’ liveli­hoods.

While the Cari­com heads have com­mit­ted to strength­en­ing food se­cu­ri­ty, Bharath said there are cross-bor­der chal­lenges, in­clud­ing trans­porta­tion be­tween the is­lands, which need to be ad­dressed.

“I am very hap­py to be part of the Caribbean Su­per­mar­ket As­so­ci­a­tion sim­ply be­cause it is a pri­vate sec­tor or­gan­i­sa­tion that will con­tin­ue to light the fire and con­tin­ue to prod and probe to en­sure that gov­ern­ments meet the kinds of com­mit­ments that they are mak­ing.”

Ver­non Per­sad, CSA founder, said a cul­ture change in con­sumer con­sump­tion pat­terns is vi­tal to re­duc­ing the food im­port bill.

“We sell what the pub­lic de­mands. How­ev­er, if the taste pref­er­ence, the palate changes from salmon to ta­lapia or to some oth­er lo­cal fish then we will move the vol­ume of salmon off our shelves and re­place it with what the cus­tomer de­mand or what they pre­fer,” said Per­sad.

Diptee sug­gest­ed that they work on a cul­ture that takes in­to con­sid­er­a­tion nu­tri­tion, mar­ket­ing and mak­ing prod­ucts more ap­peal­ing to con­sumers.

Not­ing that land grab­bing, land threat­en­ing and prae­di­al lar­ce­ny are ma­jor is­sues in the coun­try, Diptee said, “I heard that from the farm­ers them­selves, in fact, they came up with a slo­gan arm the farm­ers. That’s some­thing that tells you just how se­ri­ous the prob­lems are with farm­ing in this coun­try, which has so much po­ten­tial.”

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