The following article is taking with permission from author , Omardath Maharaj.
The views expressed below are those of the author and may or may not represent those of TAJ 92.3FM.
On behalf of the Tableland Pineapple Farmers Association, rural and coastal communities by extension, it is with a heavy heart that we join to extend our deepest and respectful condolences to the family of young agriculturalist Jerome Dhanraj on his untimely passing. Jerome is the son of arguably Trinidad and Tobago’s largest producer of watermelons, among other commodities, Dhanraj Lobin.
This experience is a reminder of another young farmer of the Association, Sarwan Lutchman, who similarly lost his life in a vehicular accident in 2014 which also left a very young family to mourn.
In 2016 another member, Ricky Gangadhar, was shot over an argument about bison damaging his farm in Barrackpore. He survived the ordeal and continued to lobby to secure his own livelihood by completing a petition calling for the removal of the animals from his neighbourhood.
Just last week, the 400th murder victim in Trinidad for 2017 was a farmer, Shamanand Gosine. He was shot dead on his agricultural estate within sight of the Ste Madeleine Police Station.
While these may be limited in number and to our information of the lives of farmers and fishers across the country; it is equal cause for concern. We have to develop a greater sensitivity to the circumstances of the men and women who feed us. As a country, we have to reflect and consider:
- What are the contributions of these farmers and their families to the national food basket?
- What is the impact on farmer motivation as their families and fellow farmers are left to mourn?
- Who will replace their production and indigenous knowledge for the benefit of Trinidad and Tobago?
Farmers and fishers do not benefit from the same safety nets such as group medical insurance plans, assistance to their dependents in the time of injury or death and other facilitating compensation packages as the working-class in the population. These considerations and recent discussions of crop insurance, for example, further disenfranchise farmers and young aspirants to the sector who heard and understood that it is not profitable to insure their livelihoods. Public statements demonstrated a failure to understand that such protection is outside of the remit of solely private enterprise.
Significant empirical research on appropriate structural models around the world is available including the Risk Management Agency of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) whose website includes:
“The Federal Crop Insurance Corporation (FCIC) operates under the authority of the Federal Crop Insurance Act (the “Act”), as amended through June 23, 1998. FCIC was established by legislation (52 Stat. 72) in 1938 to provide farmers protection against low yields. The Act was substantially amended in October 1980. At that time, FCIC was directed to utilize private sector insurance agents and companies to deliver the program and to act as a reinsurer to those same companies. The amendment also encouraged producer participation by lowering producer premiums with substantial government subsidies.
…Among many considerations of the risks associated with food production, a defining attribute was that individual yield guarantees were offered to producers based on the location of the insured acreage and crop. The insurance offer was determined by locating the risk area of the acreage within the county on a map. The major element in determining the insurance offer was the soil’s production capability. Additional considerations such as susceptibility to flooding or drought, the insured’s actual loss experience and other related attributes also affected the offer.”
Industry development, a deeper understanding of food security, and protection of the men and women who dedicate their lives to feed the nation are in need of critical evaluation and re-thinking in the current paradigm and thrusts. We must build strong support for sustainable livelihoods in the sector, the already limited livelihood portfolio of rural communities, ocean and land use, climate change action, and empower sustainability mechanisms to support farmers and fisherfolk. These will demand political commitments, actions and collaboration.
We have to remember that food security is a national security issue.
The funeral of the late Jerome Dhanraj will take place at the house of mourning in Kernahan Village, Manzanilla and then to the Mafeking Cremation Site for his final rites. May he rest in eternal peace.