Production and retail distribution
February 7th, 2022 | Related To: NAMDEVCO
INTERVIEW: Nirmalla Debysingh -Persad CEO, National Agricultural Marketing and Development Corporation (NAMDEVCO)
The coronavirus pandemic has impacted many sectors but it has given the agribusiness (production and retail distribution) sector in Trinidad and Tobago a push as many persons are now encouraged to buy local.
As Nirmalla Debysingh-Persad, CEO of National Agricultural Marketing and Development Corporation (NAMDEVCO) pointed out, “The pandemic has obviously created more opportunities for the sector in terms of production.” She further explained that it has not created many opportunities for export. “Because of the importing countries’ labour issues and the outcome of the pandemic, we are not able to export as much as we could despite the increase in production, but, we have more persons eating local, we have more persons utilising local foods to substitute the ones they would normally eat of import status, so it (the pandemic) has positively impacted the sector.”
Additionally, with the closure of restaurants and fast-food outlets, people now spend more time preparing meals at home. “We are seeing an increase in the number of persons visiting our Farmers’, retail and wholesale markets” stated Debysingh-Persad. “We have not had any decline in the usership of the market. So, therein is an indication of our ability to continue to increase the demand for local foods.”
Debysingh-Persad further pointed out that due to the decline in imported items, there has also been an increase in the number of persons utilising value-added, local foods such as fresh-cut packs, juices and beverages.
So, what does the CEO foresee as the major challenges facing the industry moving into 2022? The availability of planting material has always been a challenge and with the continued closure of borders, the delay in time to get planting material can be one of the significant deterrents.
However, this is being dealt with to some extent. She related, “We have the Seed Bank Centre in Chaguaramas and we are working aggressively on making available to local farmers, seeds that are adaptable to our conditions for growth to ensure the continuity of production.”
The CEO also has high hopes for the sector for 2022. “We now have an increase in the amount of local produce on the supermarket shelves. Additionally, we are being reached out to by the Supermarket Association to get more packaged products of local content on their shelves.”
Now that buying local is on the rise, will the reopening of borders pose a threat? Debysingh-Persad does not anticipate this happening. “We do not know about the health and well-being of the foreign countries and their ability to produce mass amounts to be able to export. Further, there are challenges with prices, with shipping costs, et cetera.”
The CEO further pointed out that there is also a lot of regional demand for local foods and that is an opportunity that has not been tapped into just yet. “If you look at the market, the imports of CARICOM produce are at an all-time low, so therein leaves opportunity for our production base to be able to supply the CARICOM islands.”