New investments in agri-business processing capacity, combined with moves to bolster food security, should provide a boost to Trinidad and Tobago’s agricultural sector, with increased opportunities for growth and value-added earnings.
On June 17 officials from the state-owned special enterprise Evolving Tecknologies and Enterprise Development Company (eTeck) signed a memorandum of understanding with the Beijing Construction Engineering Group for the development of a large-scale industrial park, the Phoenix Park Industrial Estate.
Paula Gopee-Scoon, the minister of trade and industry, said the park, proposed for Point Lisas on Trinidad’s west coast, will have the capacity to house between 60 and 80 factories upon its expected completion in mid-2019, and will directly employ some 1000 people during the construction phase and 4500 afterwards.
The project will be funded by a $104.3m loan from the Export-Import Bank of China, with eTeck announcing that at least 10 Chinese companies have committed to establishing operations at the site once completed.
In addition to value-added food processing operations, the zone will look to attract companies involved in high-value and light manufacturing, logistics and warehousing, and emerging industries such as electronic technology, information technology and the manufacture of ecologically sustainable building materials.
Processing developments add to downstream options
The Phoenix Park project follows the announcement of a new processing hub that will add downstream capacity to the agri-industry.
On May 8 government officials broke ground on the $77m Moruga Agro-Processing Park, a 7.3-ha facility designed for agricultural processing activity, located on Trinidad’s south coast. With an initial five factories to be operational by early next year, the site could expand to as many as 18, according to Gopee-Scoon.
“We are working with about 20 targeted entities to begin with, like the pineapple farmers, the cocoa farmers [and] the Moruga Hill rice producers,” she said at the park’s launch event.
Value-added potential could also be supported by the planned development of a fishing port near the park, potentially providing the opportunity to expand into fish and seafood processing.
Value-added expansion ties in with diversification efforts
The development of value-added processing projects comes amid government efforts to diversify the economy away from a reliance on hydrocarbons earnings, with industry figures saying that value-added activity in the agricultural sector could lead to the creation of high-quality export goods.
Citing crops such as cocoa, coffee, tropical or citrus fruits as having strong downstream value-added potential, Christopher Boodoosingh, CEO of chocolate producer Cocoa Republic, said quality, not volume, was the key to strong revenue flows in a competitive global marketplace.
“We cannot compete quantity-wise against Guyana, Thailand or Mexico, for instance, but our potential lies in building a well-recognised brand that leverages on excellent quality, not on large amounts of mediocre agricultural products,” he told OBG.
Government offers support to primary producers
In addition to these longer-term investments in value-added processing, the government has also moved to boost food security and support the primary agricultural sector.
The Mid-Year Budget Review, tabled on May 10 by Colm Imbert, the minister of finance, allocated an additional TT$38m ($5.6m) to support the primary production sector in the current financial year, building on the TT$545m ($80.9m) set aside for agricultural activity in the original budget, approved in October last year.
Of the new funding, $31m ($4.6m) will go towards subsidy payments due to farmers through the government’s agricultural incentive programme, which gives growers financial aid to encourage them to maintain production, as well as support for equipment purchases and input costs, while the additional $7m will be used to cover crop loss claims stemming from flood damage last year.