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Country profile - Trinidad and Tobago

trinidad

The twin-island republic of Trinidad and Tobago lies at the south of the West Indian archipelago close to the Venezuelan coast. Trinidad, the larger island, is crossed from east to west by a mountain range which is an extension of the Andes. Tobago is much smaller and has a central, volcanic mountain range.

Agriculture contributes only 0.3 per cent of the national GDP and employs an estimated 4 per cent of the population. Foreign investment and trade are buoyant but the economy is dependent on the fluctuating world price of oil and the emphasis on natural gas and petrochemicals and the lure of industrial work have been to the detriment of agriculture. With rising food imports (the country produces only eight per cent of its required staple foods) and increasing global food prices, the Government is prioritising agriculture as a way to diversify the economy, increase the country's food security and provide sustainable and productive employment opportunities.

Overview

Because of the country's colonial history, agriculture has been traditionally aimed at crops for export to Europe, including sugar, coffee and cocoa. For more than 30 years, Trinidad and Tobago enjoyed preferential treatment from the EU for the trade of cane sugar. However, with production costs for sugar among the highest in the world, the sugar sector experienced a steep decline in the early 2000s when estate-based production of sugar was ended with the closure of the state-owned sugar producing company, Caroni.

Production figures for cocoa are roughly 600 tonnes per year (© Sarah Morris)
Production figures for cocoa are roughly 600 tonnes per year
© Sarah Morris

National cocoa output has also declined due to high labour costs, low farm productivity, poor access roads and insecure land tenure. Production figures for cocoa are roughly 600 tonnes per year, compared to 35,000 tonnes produced in the early 1900s. Today, about 1,700 farmers operate on 7,000 hectares. To resuscitate the industry, the Government is focusing on niche markets for speciality cocoa, supplying planting material of 11 new improved varieties, cultivating links with international chocolatiers, and rehabilitating chocolate plantations.

Other crops grown include rice, sweet potato, cassava, breadfruit, tomatoes, hot peppers, cucumber, pumpkin, pigeon pea, banana, mango, pineapple and pawpaw. Trinidad and Tobago has the potential to be self-sufficient in fruit and vegetables but poor post-harvest storage facilities lead to gluts at some points during the year and shortages at others. A wide variety of fruit and vegetables, including pumpkin, watermelon, eggplant, hot peppers and herbs are exported mainly to the USA, Canada and the UK. Current supply of these exports is not fulfilling demand so there is potential for expansion in this sector. New initiatives include increasing the supply of high quality vegetable seeds, providing extension training in integrated pest management techniques, and improving post-harvest handling and storage facilities.

The fisheries sector includes marine fisheries, aquaculture, inland fisheries and an ornamental fish trade. Total production of fish from capture fisheries is between 13,000-15,000 tonnes per year. The sector is mainly artisanal but also includes semi-industrial and industrial fleets. The marketing and selling of fish is undertaken in a very basic manner, with most of the fish marketed fresh and sold directly by fishermen on the beach to private buyers/middlemen or to consumers. Shrimp represents about 40% of fisheries export value. Snapper, flyingfish, kingfish, carite, croakers, bechine and shrimp are also important export species. Judicious management is required to prevent overfishing. The Government is facilitating the expansion of hatcheries, improving the supply of fingerlings and establishing national processing and cold storage facilities.

Consumption of livestock products is increasing at a rapid rate (© CARDI)
Consumption of livestock products is increasing at a rapid rate
© CARDI

The main environmental issues affecting agriculture in Trinidad are the high use of agricultural chemicals, and their disposal, particularly in vegetable growing areas, and hazards, such as forest fires and soil erosion, associated with agricultural squatters on forested hillsides. In contrast, Tobago farming systems are generally low-input with little or no chemicals used but, as tourism developments and other infrastructure encroach on the most suitable land for agriculture, more farmers are using the hillsides for food production making soil conservation an increasingly important issue.

Diversification

Trinidad and Tobago is virtually self-sufficient in poultry meat, eggs, and pork but consumption of livestock products is increasing at a rapid rate. To provide sufficient quantities of animal proteins, the national focus is on production of sheep and goats for meat, dairy goats and cattle for milk, rabbits for meat and buffalo for meat and milk.

The apiaries sector is small but vibrant. There are 450 beekeepers and 7,000 colonies in the country which produced about 110,000 litres per year in 2010, which decreased in 2011 to 44,000 due to poor weather conditions. To boost production, the Government has plans to develop a laboratory to test honey to ensure it meets EU standards and grant access to State lands and forest reserves, providing access to more bee forage. By 2015, the aim is to have 550 beekeepers and 10,000 colonies producing 200,000 litres of honey per year.

CARDI has been selecting and stabilising the country's hot pepper landraces (© CARDI)
CARDI has been selecting and stabilising the country's hot pepper landraces
© CARDI

Agro-processing provides an alternative market for some fruit and vegetables such as hot peppers and pigeon peas. The Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute (CARDI) is concentrating its research and development on roots and tubers, cereals and grain legumes, hot peppers, fruits and vegetables, small ruminants, climate change resilience for agricultural development and natural resource management. The hot pepper programme has focused on selecting and stabilising the country's landraces, and compiling information about production and marketing. A strong quality seed production and dissemination system has been set up for hot pepper. Agronomic improvement and technology transfer with interventions along the value change, including marketing, has been implemented.

To improve the small ruminant industry, CARDI has concentrated on improvements in nutrition, health and breeds. In general, it is recognised that the needs of a population with very sophisticated and health-conscious tastes and the increasing number of visitors provide exciting opportunities for the development of agricultural production in Trinidad and Tobago. Potential also exists for exploring and expanding niche markets both within and outside the Caribbean region.

Statistical information
  • Country: Republic of Trinidad and Tobago
  • Capital: Port of Spain
  • Area: 5,128 sq km
  • Population: 1,226,383 (July 2012 est.)
  • Population growth rate: -0.086% (2012 est.)
  • Life expectancy: 72 (2012 est.)
  • Languages: English (official), Caribbean Hindustani (a dialect of Hindi), French, Spanish, Chinese
  • Inflation: 8.7% (2012 est.)
  • GDP purchasing power parity: US$27.12 billion (2012 est.)
  • GDP per capita: US$20,400 (2012 est.)
  • GDP composition by sector: agriculture: 0.3%; industry: 58.8%; services: 40.8% (2012 est.)
  • Land use: arable land: 14.62%; permanent crops: 9.16%; other: 76.22% (2005)
  • Major industries: petroleum and petroleum products, liquefied natural gas, methanol, ammonia, urea, steel products, beverages, food processing, cement, cotton textiles
  • Agricultural products: cocoa, rice, citrus, coffee, vegetables, poultry, sugar
  • Natural resources: petroleum, natural gas, asphalt
  • Export commodities: petroleum and petroleum products, liquefied natural gas, methanol, ammonia, urea, steel products, beverages, cereal and cereal products, sugar, cocoa, coffee, citrus fruit, vegetables, flowers
  • Export partners: US 43.6%, Spain 5.1%, South Korea 4.8%, Jamaica 4.6% (2011)

Date published: July 2013

 

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