May 2019

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Once upon a time, for a very long time, human civilisation centred on agriculture. It is estimated that the first farmers began planting grains more than 11,000 years ago. In doing so they were seeding a massive transformation in how people live. Farming led to a surplus in food, which in turn led to population growth, a diversity of roles and social development. Civilizations bloomed.

Yet even as humanity advanced, food production remained at the centre of almost every society. It was the major employer. It was the main source of wealth. Agricultural goods were the most important commodities and raw materials for finished goods. The farm was the platform for ingenuity and invention. Most importantly, and fundamentally, it ensured the society was food secure.

One of the consequences of industrial development and international trade is the tendency to take food for granted. Developed and emerging economies have supermarket shelves, stores, shops and restaurants bursting with food. We believe that because we have so much food, we are food secure. This is not always true. Food production is what ensures food security. Without agriculture our capacity to feed our society is extremely tenuous. And unfortunately, as societies develop, in many cases that crucial connection to the land withers.

Trinidad and Tobago has followed a similar trajectory. We were once an agricultural society with an abundance of small and family farms providing foods such as corn, rice, peas, beans and potatoes to feed the home market, and large-scale plantations producing sugar, cocoa and coffee. But we became an independent republic guided by an agenda of industrial development fueled by the energy sector. And it worked. Today the energy sector contributes almost 48 per cent of GDP (2017). But what of agriculture? Various reports show that in 2017 it contributed between 0.5 per cent and 0.4 per cent to GDP and employs an estimated four per cent of the population. Agriculture is not what it used to be.

“The contribution of agriculture to GDP in almost every CARICOM country has declined and continues to decline relatively, and there is a similar trend in the budget allocation to the agricultural sector in most of these countries,” said Mr Reuben Robertson, Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) Representative for T&T and Suriname at a recent event.

In that same gathering, Mr Robertson stated that, “our countries and region are faced with severe challenges to the extent where our region is a net importer of food, estimated at US$4.7 billion annually, making the region food insecure.”

The “gathering” was techAGRI Expo 2019, the signature event of UWI St Augustine’s Faculty of Food and Agriculture (FFA). In its third year, techAGRI has become the Caribbean’s premier agricultural exhibition, exposing visitors to the creativity, commercial potential, future tools and splendid products originating on campus and in society. It represents the outstanding work of Dr Wayne Ganpat, Dean of FFA and his entire team of faculty members, support staff and the students themselves. Even teams from other faculties played an important part at techAGRI, which is fitting because food security is a society-wide concern and every discipline has a role in its realisation.

In his opening address at the expo, Dr Ganpat explained its three objectives:

“To draw national attention to food and food production as an attractive, technology driven profession… to expose all the varied opportunities that exist in food beyond primary production, the wide range of exciting value-added products… and thirdly to draw national to the work that The UWI is doing as we contribute to agriculture in the region.”

All three objectives were achieved beyond expectation. I have attended every techAGRI and every year I marvel at the work that is being done by the scholars, business people, technologists, sector specific organisations and government agencies in food production. I am impressed by the multitude of creative and colourful products that have been developed in T&T and the region. I am heartened by the excitement of the school children as their world is opened up to the wonders of agricultural research and technology. Among them may very well be a future generation of farmers and agricultural entrepreneurs.

TechAGRI is only one of the many initiatives from the FFA. In December 2018 the faculty launched its Technology Demonstration Park just outside the campus grounds. The park, built by our graduate students, displays climate smart technologies and hydroponic systems - tools to improve the viability of farming and agriculture-based commercial activity.

And the FFA remains a regional leader in research, teaching and ideas. In this issue of UWI Today we tell the story of Dr Rajendra Persaud, one of our PhD students, whose research into sustainable management strategies for diseases affecting rice led to him receiving the “Golden Arrow of Achievement” a national award from the Republic of Guyana. This is the kind of high value, impactful research of which the FFA and the entire university should be proud.

It is highly unlikely that we will ever return to an agrarian age, where food production dominates our societies. But we can inspire a rejuvenation of agriculture. We must. There are several examples of nations suffering the consequences of food insecurity, some close to home. A country insecure in its food supply is a country at risk of a national emergency. The danger is that great.

At The UWI we understand the stakes. We are doing the work. But we cannot do it alone. National and regional issues require a national and regional response. We therefore look forward to engaging with the wider society. I believe that working together we can not only feed our citizens for generations but also establish a vibrant and prosperous industry based on agriculture.

Professor Brian Copeland
Pro Vice-Chancellor and Principal


Campus Principal: Professor Brian Copeland
Director of Marketing and Communications (Ag): Mrs Wynell Gregorio
Editor (Ag): Joel Henry (

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