As we approach the 2015 General Election Tobago and the Tobago House of Assembly would play a critical role. There are so many pressing issues relating to Tobago that would highlight the campaign that the nation must play careful attention to. Recently the Ground Report did several morning programmes in Tobago and many issues came to the forefront, voiced by Tobagonians about the current state of affairs in Tobago under the tenure of the Chief Secretary Orville London since 2001 and the People’s National Movement. We will begin to examine some of these issues as they relate to Tobago and its development.
These issues affecting Tobago are not disconnected from each other and it is the reason why I can this first commentary, All in One – a popular Tobago Dish, what you have you just throw it in the pot and cook it up. While reading keeping this concept in mind because everything is in an all in one dish, so while it appears that I might go off in some directions, whatever is in the all in one in essential to understanding the complexity of the dish, therefore one can see the connection of all the issues and how they are interrelated.
We will begin with human capital because it is the most valuable asset in any society. The foundation of human capital development is education. Despite the presence of more secondary schools on the island, comparatively there has been less education on the island. Tobago once prided itself where some of the most outstanding and educated citizens came from Tobago and competed at the highest levels. That generation is disappearing.
Less than 40% of students leave the secondary schools with more 5 or more subjects. This is the beginning of the pipeline of dependency that is systematically exploited politically. There are no sustainable jobs because major industries that once held commercial value are struggling or have been abandoned, respectively tourism and agriculture.
There are an interconnectedness among education, the naturally available industries, and development outcomes. These are the factors that creates the foundation for strong economic growth but there is more than a disconnect between all and it appears that the Tobago House of Assembly and some people in Trinidad and Tobago cannot connect these for the shaping of effective policies for better and sustained outcomes.
I am going to try to break this down as simple as possible, with the claim that Tobago does not have the capacity to feed itself. It once did.
While you would never starve in Tobago because of the wide variety of fruits and other things that naturally grow without systematic cultivation, like green bananas and bhagi. You can catch a yardie, to dig up some provision from a small dasheen patch, lend hand in siene pulling for some greenback and jacks and still don’t have to go to the supermarket. So while eating this way requires some resourcefulness if one lives alone, getting something to eat is relatively easy especially. Additionally, in Tobago, some granny, mommy or tanty is almost always around and food is always available. I write like this to demonstrate what I saw with my own eyes during the time I spent in Tobago of how people live, survive and support each other. They are the collective experiences of people I know that are repeated in village and after village only with the people changing but in essence the issues are the same. People generally live well with each other and the spirit of sharing and hospitality remains
Despite the fact you would not starve, a major segment of young people who have left the secondary schools without the necessary qualifications to get long term sustaining jobs and end up on make work programmes such as URP and CEPEP are on the brink of poverty. These are the individuals who not only depend on the government but also on the generosity and kindness of family even though granny have to spend the old age pension to feed some grandchildren and at times their children. Mind you, everyone might be working dong a little “morning wuk” but money from that job is not enough for oneself, so where one can get free food all the time one will take advantage of this, instead of contributing money for groceries at home. That little relief money becomes pocket change to buy credit for phone, alcohol, and cigarettes but it is not nearly enough to do anything substantial.
Tobagonians pay more when they go to the supermarkets compared to Trinidadians. Tobago’s food import bill is out of control and this is where we must begin to connect the dots with the everyday realities of some people with policy making decisions and outcomes. The things we are capably of cultivating in Tobago we are importing them. This was never the case. The capacity to produce our own food is essential to future development outcomes.
When the earning potential of a wide cross-section of your population is capped (those who cannot find jobs without 5 subjects) what is socially constructed and ultimately reproduced is an underclass, an almost permanent one. This is why education has the greatest capacity to break and permanently disrupt cycles of poverty.
The high agricultural output of the past is very low. The Scarborough Market which received a great deal of commentary during the morning programmes by the Ground Report is enough evidence about the state of agriculture. Markets are the central hubs of commerce and the food culture of a people. The market in any city or town allows you to encounter real people and tourists flocks for authentic experiences. I have visited markets in Africa, Europe, Mexico and other Caribbean Islands, and if not for the tourists, for the vendors then the people they prevent from starving deserve a better market in Tobago. The working conditions for these vendor are deplorable and the market is shameful to look upon. It is a turnoff for tourists whose cruise ships docks a few yards away on the port but even more repulsive for locals who enter when need dictates.
Our vendors however should be commended because they are vital to keeping us alive. Despite the added cost most get their products from Trinidad. So the items once cultivated in Tobago are now commodities coming from Trinidad and elsewhere. It is possible that the quantity of ground provisions, peas, peppers, and the myriads of things we import that can be grown in Tobago be slashed by 20 to 30 percent.
When a significant workforce such as CEPEP and URP workers are engaged in tasks below their human potential and their real earning capacity is not utilized for self-growth, it shows the lack of innovative and effective policies. Agriculture and downstream agribusiness have tremendous potential to assist in the awakening of Tobago’s dormant economy. When money is set aside for relief programmes, less is allocated towards other development needs. This is not an attempt to pick on the “underprivileged” but it is intended to demonstrate that the poverty and dependency syndrome is created and fueled by failed cyclical policies.