Omardath Maharaj and wife Gaytree
By Sue-Ann Wayow
USUAL yard work for an agriculturalist is transformed into a yard market during the Covid-19 pandemic offering plants and plant products.
With many people trying their hand at a kitchen garden during the major lockdown periods, Omardath Maharaj decided to go on a much larger scale.
He said, “One year ago, I was buying top soil by the truck loads. Cleaning the grasses, chunks of clay, rock, sometimes debris and bagging for people who would support us, a basis to start or continue their household food production journey regardless of how small. Lord knows I needed the exercise and we needed the money.”
One year later, the Yard Market in Chase Village, Chaguanas blossomed to supply readily-packaged local planting soil and vermi-compost products. Focus is placed on home gardening.
Seeds, seedlings, flowers, herbs, fruit plants and even “goodies” including honey, sauces, condiments and even personal care products are all available at the market.
The Yard Market concept was born out of concerns about the sustainability of food sources and the cost of appropriate food and nutrition, promoting an inclusive entrepreneurship hub for the promotion of home-gardening, practical agriculture, hand-made and home-made products, and other social enterprise, Maharaj told AZPNews.com.
The Yard Market is now online and people can place their orders and either collect or request delivery depending on the items ordered. Maharaj said the next possible in- person event may be held in October.
He said, “I always wondered about the state of this economy and generally, development policy and planning in agriculture for some time. Sharing experiences in China, India and locally to prompt awareness, national conversation and action has been successful over the years.
“Nonetheless, I have not had full-time employment in this country since April 2015. With a growing family and rising cost of living, we’ve certainly felt the pains much sooner than the pandemic.”
With the introduction of the lockdown in March 2020, Maharaj’s family decided to refocus priorities and introduced varieties of vegetables to keep planting exciting and longer-term fruits for diversity and nutrition. He also began educating others in container gardening, hand-pollination and saving seeds to replant.
While they initially focused on home gardeners, Maharaj observed that the activities caught the favour of traditional farmers.
“The farming demographic has been changing in the past year. Fresh capital-finance and technology and faces. While a lot of conversation happens around the common basket of goods (vegetable production), I’m happy that there are farmers planning ahead and strategising for their net income and the market.”
The Yard Market is also celebrating The International Year of Fruits and Vegetables 2021, as declared by the UN General Assembly raising awareness of the nutritional and health benefits of fruit and vegetable consumption.
In September 2020, the Yard Market’s public education and awareness activities were recognised by the United Nations on its first ever International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste.
The Yard Market, in June celebrated its first anniversary by freely distributing over 10,000 pounds of honey dew melons, cantaloupe, sweet potatoes, pumpkins and other produce in partnership with farmers from Mayaro and central Trinidad.
Food security clear challenge for T&T
The challenge for food security is that traditional food exporting countries which was Trinidad and Tobago’s import markets may revisit their export strategies and internal policies towards building reserves and distribution confidence in order to maintain the food and nutrition security of their populations. Trade logistics is also under pressure.
“For import dependent countries like ours, international crises especially associated with our major trade partners can have deep repercussions on our local economy and people whose livelihoods are undoubtedly interconnected,” Maharaj said.
In the last budget presentation, the Minister of Finance pointed out that 194,000 people make a living on minimum wage which was frightening since sectors and businesses which traditionally use this type of labour is also facing an unprecedented slowdown.
“It exposes the vulnerability of our people,” he said.
While the topic of food sustainability has been on government’s table for some time, it lacked the necessary sustainability support.
Maharaj said, “We have to pay attention to agriculture and food production in this country, now, and start food security planning to avoid price, production, and market volatility resulting in food chain crisis.”
He repeated his call to Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley to fully engage key stakeholders to move into a long term contingency food plan.
Every citizen has a stake in food security planning but also many need some level of empowerment and assurance that the power is literally in their hands, he believes.
Maharaj said, “The Covid-19 pandemic is a wake-up call to rethink the way in which we produce, handle and waste our food. We need to have a serious rethink of development policy and planning in agriculture. In order to systematically reduce our reliance on foreign food products and bolster our own capacity, there must be a fundamental shift in the sector’s priority.”