The heartbreaking reality that his crops and livestock have been destroyed by floods has forced farmer Roland Binda to slowly get out of the agri-business.
Binda, 63, a farmer in Woodland, has been living in Pluck Road for all his life and inherited the family business.
Last week Wednesday, he took Business Day on a tour of his agriculture estate which consisted of almost 27 parcels of land, but that visit was halted by heavy rain and Binda feared rising water levels would make it impassable to get back to safety.
Binda said agriculture has been his family’s main source of income, dating back to the days of his grandparents but in recent times the majority of the land had to be abandoned.
“We grew up in farming, it was our main livelihood. It was what developed us economically. We started with sugarcane farming and then branched off into rice farming, cattle farming and vegetable farming.
“We had revenue deriving from all different avenues. This area has always been a farming community. We were the biggest employer here in the 1950s, 60s, 70s and part of the 80s and helped with the community’s development.”
Binda lost his wife several years ago due to breast cancer, his next of kin is his daughter. His siblings and most of his extended family have all migrated.
He said the flooding over the past decade due to work in the area done by Heritage Petroleum Co Ltd, and a lack of draining and infrastructure, such as flood gates have exacerbated the situation.
Running through the Woodland area is the South Oropouche River, a main waterway that pulls water from southeastern and parts of southwestern Trinidad.
Binda’s farming was done on a commercial level, and they planted vegetables such as tomatoes, watermelons, yardlong bean (bodi), melongene, ochroes, peppers and root crops.
He described the area as “the food basket for the country” but arable land was now difficult to come by.
“As time went by the soil deteriorated with the introduction of the new cut channel and most of the arable land has become totally barren. The salt water which permeates through the land has killed our crops.
“We tried dairy farming to supplement what was remained but that too, over the years was hit hard. The animals either died due to heavy flooding or were stolen.”
Binda said the remaining cattle he gave to another farmer to tend to because the expenditure to take care of them was overwhelming.
“Labour was hard to come now, people were moving away from it. Praedial larceny has also increased, our crops, machinery and other equipment have been stolen more than before.”
An investment in a grocery was now his main source of income. Further investments in a restaurant and bar were his next step for additional income but covid19 halted its progress. The physical structure has already been built, the carpark still undone, and furniture was yet to be brought in. With a ban on bars and food establishments, Binda was stuck. Even the prospect of partial reopening of this sector in the coming weeks is little motivation.
He said, “I have been considering renting out this establishment after being held up by bandits too many times in the past. The psychological effects and trauma were too much to bear. It is heavy a blow.
“I have had to sell my tractors and some of our equipment just remained and rusted to the point where it was of no use to us again.”
Binda believes TT has great agricultural prospects but said its revival depended on proactive approaches rather than reactive ones.
“Agriculture is not supported by government. There is a lot of talk but no action. I have seen the total destruction of agriculture in this region and by extension the country. It is unfortunate to know that people view agriculture as a degrading type of job. It is not taken seriously like countries in North America, Latin America or Europe.
“This pandemic has shown that there should have been an enhancement in the agriculture sector. What will happen to this country when there is a world food crisis? We are capable of sustainability.”
Binda said the technology, knowledge and expertise were readily available, but the Government needed to find ways to draw young people into the sector.
“Agriculture should not something that is looked down upon. It is important for our survival, to say the least. We should not be dependent upon imports and our foreign reserves are dwindling.
“We have the best honey, cocoa, coffee, corn and peppers that we could capitalise on. Why are we not investing in that? In the rural communities where agriculture is heavy based, governments should have more investments and community based programmes to get people involved.”
Additionally, he said the Woodland lagoons were a great place for eco-tourism but his efforts to get this started for the community have failed.
“I’ve tried too many times to get governments involved to develop eco-tourism here. It would benefit a wide cross-section of people, but they (governments) did not bite into the idea at all.”
Binda said the ambition to continue ploughing his fields and rearing his cattle was still there but there was no encouragement to continue.
“I am getting older, and this is a laborious job and while I love it, I cannot continue to make investments only to lost hundreds of thousands of dollars when it floods several times in a year.
“I have had serious considerations to dispose of some assets. It will be hard because this is my family’s legacy.”