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Count the Government out

Published: 
Monday, June 4, 2018
Rambharat closes door on buffalypso industry

A combative Agriculture Minister Clarence Rambharat has dismissed the possibility of further state involvement in the beleaguered buffalypso industry and dared the private sector to take up the challenge. He said a “differently-shaped ministry” can make the current state farms available to the private sector, but the Government should not be involved in the buffalypso business.

Rambharat took half an hour of a scheduled 10-minute speaking engagement at a University of the West Indies (UWI) conference on the future of the specially-bred animal in T&T, to explain that further financial support for the industry “will not happen under my watch.”

Rambharat, who confessed to having been initially surprised by news of the conference, said it was his impression from the proposed programme of the two-day conference that “they are planning to ride the taxpayers’ back with whatever you want to do.”

The conference on Revitalising the Buffalypso—Our National Treasure, was jointly organised on the St Augustine campus by the UWI School of Veterinary Medicine and the Faculty of Food and Agriculture.

Local buffalypso herds have been seriously affected by the crippling Brucellosis bacterial disease for over 20 years.

US immunology professor, Dr Gerhardt Schurig, was due to speak on management of the disease at the conference. His paper focuses on the use of vaccines which “have been found to give some protection in American bisons and water buffaloes.”

But Rambharat cited a Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) report which called for a wholesale culling of the affected herds. He said his predecessor, Vasant Bharath, had used the word “slaughter” to describe what should be done. The closure of Caroni (1975) Ltd saw the transfer of responsibility for its herd of buffalypsoes to the Ministry of Agriculture, Land and Fisheries.

“The fact is the ministry did not then, nor does it now have that capacity,” the minister said.

“Since then…we have just carried on doing it exactly as it was done in Caroni (1975) Ltd…just keeping things going. Today, not one of you in this room can tell me the production cost per kilogramme of buffalypso in Trinidad and Tobago. I can tell you, whatever is the cost, the taxpayer has been carrying it for decades.”

He said even if Brucellosis was eventually contained or eradicated, “I would love to hear what private sector investor in Trinidad and Tobago wants to buy in.” He noted the absence of “a finance person” on the conference programme and said it was clear that state financing was envisaged.

He dared his audience to explain why the private sector has not rushed to invest in the industry “with all the acreage that we have…with all the mega-farms and large farms the Government has made available.”

Rambharat’s address contrasted sharply with the optimistic soundings of previous speakers.

Dean of the Faculty of Food and Agriculture, Dr Wayne Ganpat, said, “there is absolutely no doubt that we need to preserve, moreso expand, the buffalypso herd in Trinidad.”

He nevertheless advised that decisions on the future of the herd must be “based on science.”

Deputy Dean of the Faculty of Medical Sciences, Dr Kenneth Charles, said preservation of the breed developed in T&T in the 1960s by veterinarian Dr Stephen Bennett deserved “the weight of the medical fraternity.”

Feature speaker on the evening was Prof Antonio Borghese, president of the International Buffalo Federation, who provided statistics on the economics of buffalo husbandry internationally. His paper looks at the role of the buffalypso as a provider of meat but, more significantly, as a source of milk.

Earlier, Rambharat said he did not know what happened to the milk produced by buffalypsoes in the care of his ministry.

“We buy feed for the herd, we milk but I do not know what we do with the milk. Why should we be in the business of minding livestock? Why should we be in the business of selling milk? No modern government should be in that business…especially in Trinidad and Tobago, given our bad history,” he said.

“Maybe a differently-shaped ministry in particular livestock will make those farms available to the private sector for participation. Because the private sector will not tolerate people who are simply on the payroll.”

In an article published in the main conference programme, historian and former agriculture minister Prof Brinsley Samaroo argues that “it is the aim of the buffalypso conference to begin the process of transformation of this most valuable resource at a time when diversification and employment-creation are our priorities.”

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