Country profile - Trinidad and Tobago
The twin-island republic of Trinidad and Tobago lies at the south (10½° N, 60° W) of the West Indian archipelago close to the Venezuelan coast. Trinidad, the larger island (4,828 km2) is crossed from east to west by a mountain range which is an extension of the Andes. Tobago, which lies 30 km NE of Trinidad, is much smaller (300 km2) and has a central, volcanic mountain range. The prevailing climate of the two islands is tropical with rains from June to December, but tempered by the sea and east trade winds. Rainfall averages 1,800 mm per year but deficits in the dry season (January to May) make water management a major concern for agricultural production. Temperatures are relatively stable (30-32°C) with a drop to 25°C at night and, although the country lies in the hurricane belt, the last hurricane to cause serious damage hit Tobago in 1963.
The islands of Trinidad and Tobago have been linked as one country for over a hundred years, but the unique character of each island contributes in different ways to the country's culture. For instance, Trinidad is quite industrialized whereas Tobago remains very rural. Foreign investment and trade are buoyant but the overall economy is very dependent on the fluctuating world price of oil. The emphasis on oil and related industries and the lure of industrial work have been to the detriment of agriculture. Agriculture contributes only 2% of the national GDP and employs only an estimated 11% of the population. Even in Tobago, agriculture has been recently estimated to contribute less than 2% of the Tobago GDP, although many families have at least a part-time interest in agricultural or fishing enterprises.
This year a new agricultural incentive programme has been introduced, in both Trinidad and Tobago, which, using a combination of fiscal and non-fiscal measures, is aimed at assisting the revitalization of agriculture in general, especially those areas seeking to become internationally competitive. On both islands much of the agricultural land is owned by the state. Some of this was distributed to farmers about thirty years ago but, for a variety of reasons, was not used productively. An audit of all statelands has recently been completed and both islands are currently addressing the issue of their rational use and are accelerating land distribution.
Because of the country's colonial history, agriculture has been traditionally aimed at crops for export to Europe. Sugar, cocoa and coffee are still the most important estate crops, and citrus, rice and coconuts are also grown in large acreages. With 11,000 hectares, sugar production accounts for approximately 50% of the GDP for agriculture. Sugar is used for local soft drink manufacture and rum production but, as an export crop, it is vulnerable to World Trade Organization agreements and the removal of preferential treatment for European markets. Anticipating this, the major, state-owned, sugar producing company has been diversifying its activities for many years into citrus and other fruit, sheep and buffalypso (water buffalo bred for meat production). Cocoa is exported but all the coffee produced is processed locally. Coconut, rice and citrus are also processed and used mainly by local industries.
The incidence of the polyphagous Hibiscus Mealybug (Maconellicoccus hirsutis) in recent years has been a major threat to agricultural production. The ornamental Hibiscus and related crops such as sorrel and ochro (Hibiscus sabdariffa and Hibiscus esculentus) are particularly vulnerable to attack but the pest is being successfully managed using biocontrol agents. Fruit and vegetable production are now increasing and contribute 20% to the agricultural GDP. A wide variety of fruit and vegetables, including pumpkin, watermelon, eggplant, hot peppers and herbs, are exported mainly to the USA, Canada and the United Kingdom. Current supply of these exports is not fulfilling demand so there is potential for the expansion of this sector. In Tobago, fruit and vegetables are produced for local markets and the tourist industry. However, Tobago producers face serious competition from growers in Trinidad who, because of lower input costs and larger economies of scale, can produce at relatively low cost.
Agroprocessing provides an alternative market for some fruit and vegetables such as hot peppers and pigeon peas but in Trinidad the large food processing companies, with a few exceptions, tend to import bulk commodities for repackaging. In Tobago the emphasis is on developing cottage-type enterprises using local produce. During the last decade, cut flower production (anthuriums, ginger lilies, heliconias, orchids and tropical foliage) has been successfully established by a small group of growers for export to North America and Europe. The value of cut flowers exported has increased by 62% since 1988 to nearly TT$9 million in 1998. The apiaries sector is small but vibrant especially in Tobago which remains free of the pests and diseases and the Africanized bee that constrain production elsewhere. There are nearly 400 beekeepers in the country producing about 120,000 litres per year of multi-floral honey.
Trinidad and Tobago is virtually self sufficient in poultry meat, eggs, and pork. Some beef, lamb and goat continues to be imported although these are also produced locally. The Blenheim Sheep Multiplication and Research Project in Tobago is recognized as an international centre for hair sheep development and the buffalypso was developed through a selective breeding programme by a local veterinarian. Fisheries are also important for both Trinidad and Tobago and major investments are currently being planned to ensure that the fisheries sector is in compliance with Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) and ISO 9000 requirements in order to maintain and, in the case of the European market, regain export markets.
Tourism is becoming an increasingly important sector of the economy and agriculture and tourism links are expected to be an important feature of future agricultural development. The industry is still but is growing rapidly, especially in Tobago where the development of one very large resort has just begun and others are planned. Direct flights and international media coverage of Tobago has made the island more accessible and appealing to visitors than previous flights routed only through Trinidad.
The main environmental issues affecting agriculture in Trinidad are the high use of agricultural chemicals, and their disposal, particularly in the vegetable growing areas, and the hazards, such as forest fires and soil erosion, associated with agricultural squatters on the 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 have to use the hillsides for food production - making soil conservation an increasingly important issue.
In general, it is recognized 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.
- Country: Trinidad and Tobago
- Population: 1,281,825 (1998)
- Annual population growth rate: 0.6%
- Population density: 248/km2
- Infant mortality rate: 16.2
- Monetary Unit: TT Dollar (US$1.00 = TT$ 6.3 - August 1999)
- GDP: TT$36,399.4 million
- GDP composition by sector: Agriculture Forestry and Fishing 2%, Oil & asphalt 26%, Manufacturing 8%, Electricity water and construction 10%, Distribution & restaurants 16%, Transport, storage & communication 9%, Other activities, inc. government 25%, Value Added Tax 4%
- Annual GDP per capita: TT$28,647
- Labour force: Total 541,000, construction and utilities 13%, manufacturing, mining and quarrying 14%, agriculture 11%, services 62%
- Unemployment rate: 15%
- Area: Trinidad: 4,828 km2; Tobago: 300 km2
- Land use: arable land 15%, permanent crops 9%, permanent pastures 2%, forests and woodlands 46%, other 28%
- Irrigated land:220 km2
- Industries: petroleum refining, chemical and other manufacturing, food processing, tourism
- Agricultural products: sugar, cocoa, rice, citrus, coffee, vegetables, poultry, pork
- Exports: TT$15,903 million
- Export Commodities: Mineral fuels, lubricants etc, chemicals, manufactured goods, food, machinery
- Export Partners: USA, Caribbean, EEC, Latin America
- Imports: TT$18,935 million
- Import Commodities: Machinery and transport equipment, manufactured goods, mineral fuels, food, chemicals
- Import Partners: USA, EEC, Latin America, Caribbean
Date published: July 1999
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Have your say
Very informative. However, I have recently completed a B.Sc ... (posted by: Sheena)
How can I sustain myself with agriculture? (posted by: Savi)
I am living in london. I want to return to do some farming. ... (posted by: patrick taylor)
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