POLITICS AND ECONOMICS: RESTRUCTURING THE TRINIDAD ECONOMY

AGRICULTURE AND LAND REFORM

Since 1964, the Government, with Canadian and World Bank assistance ($8.5 m from the latter in 1966) has been giving increased attention to agriculture. Between 1951 and 1961 this sector grew by 4.2% per annum and contributed 12% of the real total output in the latter year, a performance which reflects the dominance of oil and the weakness of the domestic food production sector rather than any structural transformation of the economy. Whereas only $4.5 m was spent directly on agriculture during the whole first plan period, about 7.8 was spent in 1965. Agriculture which now employs about 21% of the total work force. is now being enthusiastically regarded by all as the critical hinge in the programme of job creation and national community building. The P.N.M’s programme, which initially involves the distribution of 20,000 acres of public land in varying sizes (5 to 15 acres depending on the kind of economic activity) is designed to absorb surplus manpower, slow down the drift to towns, and to cut down on the growing import food bill – $90 m in 1966 – which is more than an irritant to the balance of payments problem.

The programme also has political and racial implications since the leadership of the official Opposition Democratic Labour Party which draws most of its support from the large East Indian population, has represented the P.N.M’s previous lack of interest in agriculture as an attempt to “suppress one section of the community”. Land reform was also a critical issue in the 1966 Elections All parties, especially the small but vocally radical Workers and Farmers Party made it a central plank in their political platforms. The latter’s aim was to undercut the D.L.P. in the Indian controlled “sugar” constituencies and to forge a coalition between the Indian farmer and the Negro oil worker as Butler.Ciprraru and others had attempted in the thirties and forties.

The P.N.M. claims that its new programme is agrotechnical rather than agrarian. The latter, which it imputes to its radical opponents, involves the mere distribution of appropriated land. The one is economic, the other is political. Agrotechnical reform is costly and complex. It implies the creation of viable, stable and contended farming communities, and means, among other things, irrigation (only 10% of the arable land in Trinidad is irrigated) housing, electricity, water, road and transportation facilities, co-operatives, mechanization, refrigeration and storage, pest controls and fertilizers, market intelligence, risk capital, subsidies, guaranteed prices, a rational land tenure system and skilled officers to disseminate and supervise new agricultural methods. Moreover, the farmer has to be systematically persuaded to begin using the scientific agricultural techniques that have lain at his doorstep on the plantations for so long. Links also have to be forged between agriculture and the growing manufacturing sector. All this takes time and requires adequate infra structure. The P.N.M. feels that the major bottleneck in its agricultural programme is not land but an insufficient number of entrepreneurial farmers, soil analysts, land surveyors and dedicated agricultural officers. Criticisms are frequently heard that agricultural officers are not doing enough to inform farmers of facilities that have already been made available.

The Government programme has been criticized by landed conservatives as well as by radicals. The former claim that most of the allocated plots are too small to permit economic and managerial viability. The P.N.M. is also said to be subsidizing inefficient and passive farmers rather than the proven entrepreneurs whose activities earn precious foreign exchange. Conservatives too are perhaps critical (it seems) of the recently enacted Agricultural Small Holdings Act 1961, which has been designed to give greater security of tenure to tenant farmers. They feel that it is the landowner who needs protection against unproductive and destructive farmers. It is also felt that the sums allotted to agriculture under the Second Development Plan are still too small and that enough is not being spent on agricultural education. The Government’s reply to these critics is that it cannot budget more for agriculture than can be readily absorbed, and that it is now more concerned with raising low farm incomes, job-creation and domestic food production than with the traditional export crops for which the future looks bleak. Very important too is the need to reduce the dualism between the plantation system and small peasant farming. As the Plan notes;

“On both economic and social grounds it is necessary to create a more broadly based pattern of agriculture where economic and human resources can be directed into certain non-traditional lines, with the small and medium sized farming sector becoming increasingly more productive and the land becoming capable of sustaining an increasing number of people”.

It is also being recognized that the value of crops and livestock produced for local consumption is higher than that for exports. In 1960 the value of these amounted to $65 m whereas the value of export crops was about $56 m of which sugar contributed $38.5 m.

On the left the programme is criticised as being inadequate to meet the urgent needs of the rural workers and the unemployed. They note, with some justification, that the choice of farmers is often motivated by partisan political considerations, and that lands have been allocated to party supporters and friends and relations of P.N.M. politicians. The radicals also feel that the programme is too costly, and that the farmers will never be able to repay the capital costs of the farm in the 20 odd years allowed them. The W.F.P. has suggested a number of alternatives which are not always consistent. The stated aim of the W. F .P ., which denies it is either socialist, Marxist or Communist is to “change the colonial system from the bottom up …. The bankrupt sugar cane plantation system must go”.

The Party feels that a 250 acre ceiling must be put on all land-holdings, and that the sugar estates should be appropriated (sometimes purchased) and distributed to bonafide farmers.

The W .F .P. and some independent observers claim that the land being distributed by the P.N.M. is not of the best (opinion is still hotly divided on this) and that the sugar lands are more arable, and equally important, already developed. These lands should be taken out of sugar and converted into cash crops and the like for the domestic market. At times Party spokesmen assert that the lands should be divided among sugar workers and cane farmers leaving processing atone to the companies as is done to a great extent in Puerto Rico. It is even claimed (rather implausibly) that properly supervised, and with the enlightened benevolence of the Sugar Companies themselves, the peasants will be even more productive than the estates are at present interestingly enough, one of the authorities quoted in support of the idea of separating the milling and cultivating processes is Dr. Williams himself, who had endorsed the principle in NEGRO IN THE CARIBBEAN and in HISTORY OF THE PEOPLE OF TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO and who in a speech in the Legislature in 1961 argued:

“Even if the cane farmer was not as efficient as the planter, the issue is not solely an economic one, and you may pay a certain price in terms of economic efficiency for the greater social stability and advantages that are associated with a widespread ownership on a small scale.”

The destruction of the sugar estates is also justified on political and social grounds. “Confronting” sugar is seen as the only medium through which the malintegrated rural Indian population can be brought into the mainstream of the larger society. The bulk of these are employed on the estates or in cane farming, depressed areas of the economy, and it is felt that unless something radical is done to reorganise agriculture, there is no hope that they will ever become first class citizens in a genuinely multi-racial national community. Racial animosity between Indians and Negroes would continue to plague the island until sugar is destroyed and the rural population harnessed for agricultural reconstruction. In the words of the W.F.P. programme, “agriculture must lead to the involvement of the people in the achievement of national goals, to the releasing of their energies and enterprise and the emergence of a truly national community.” The W.F.P. in fact feels that their programme is the only one that could break down the present polarization of the two major ethnic groups into racially based political parties, a division which they claim makes it difficult for the society to undertake the radical policies that are needed to repatriate and close the economy. In a critical analysis of the P.N.M., so far unpublished, Lloyd Best observed that:

“It never built up the sugar issue in such a way as to secure the support of the large, rural, racially distinct sub-culture. This omission made the essentially urban creole party vulnerable by keeping the door open to another power grouping based on the rural sub-culture. Thus unless sugar with all the attendant issues of rural reform to which it was central was brought into the arena …. the P.N.M. could chance no programme involving the people with· out risking a defection of the elitist wing of its own ‘nationalistic’ support, un-compensated by converts from the countryside.”

Best and others feel that a genuine Afro Indian solidarity movement forged on class lines must be created if the society is to decolonize itself integrally.