The story that we narrate here is a story of how the Caribbean Wild Rice known as Moruga Hill Rice found the right support and the right Match via the Trinidad and Tobago Intellectual Property Office (“TTIPO”) Office of the Attorney General and Ministry of Legal Affairs, World Intellectual Property Organization (“WIPO”) (Latin America and the Caribbean Bureau and WIPO Match) and the African Agricultural Technology Foundation. The arduous journey began for Mark Forgenie, the founder of Caribbean Sea and Air Marketing Co. Ltd., when he was a little boy.
At that time, it was normal for Moruga Hill Rice to be stored in a chest at his family farm, where Mark would portion out the red, toffee brown and black grains to be mixed with cocoa to make champorado porridge for breakfast, or nutty-flavored, wholesome wild rice dishes for lunch and dinner.
When Mark became a man and his father fell ill after suffering a stroke, Mark returned home from his career as a Merchant Navy Captain to reignite the family’s farm and its production of Moruga Hill Rice, because historically and anecdotally, the wild rice has always been used by the Moruga community to ward off and manage lifestyle diseases such as diabetes and other chronic illnesses. Mark surmised that it would also help in his father’s recovery, and he was right. The nutrition profile of Vista Dorado Estates Moruga Hill Rice, suggests why. Every serving contains just 280 calories, zero saturated and trans fats, 21% carbohydrates, 24% dietary fiber, 10% vitamin C and 2% of both Calcium and Iron. Nutritionally, and as it relates to taste, this Moruga Hill Caribbean wild rice is on par, and at times superior to leading brands of global wild rice! This is a story that is worth telling.
Even before Christopher Columbus’ 1498 landing on the southern coast of Trinidad near to the village of Moruga, indigenous tribes that Europeans called Arawaks and Caribs that originated from the Orinoco River Delta in South America thrived on the island (Brereton, n.d.). These tribes, referred to by various names, including the Warao (Anbanet), were hunter gatherers living in southern Trinidad. Before gaining its independence in 1962 and becoming a Republic in 1976, Trinidad was also occupied by the Spaniards, African slaves were imported and neighboring French Catholics were invited to settle on the island. And in 1802 after the island was ceded to the British, Indian indentured laborers were brought in and other immigrants arrived from the smaller British Caribbean Colonies, from Africa as rescued slaves, from Madeira, China, Syria, Lebanon, Venezuela, and the United Kingdom. And so it is that Trinidad became home to one of the most, if not the most heterogeneous populations in the Caribbean, a diversity that has evolved to embrace culinary multifariousness.
Amidst this rich history, between 1775-1783 the British recruited runaway slaves to join their armies in exchange for their freedom, and around 1816 some of those military former slaves, referred to as Merikins, were brought to south Trinidad to settle (Duke, 2015). Folklore has it that they brought with them several varieties of dryland rice that is said to have mixed with the Indian Corn of the first settlers, the Arawaks and the Caribs, to hybridize into today’s indigenous Moruga Hill Rice.
Fast forward to 2004, a time when Moruga Hill Rice still remained a crop grown by small farmers in the Moruga community, with the traditional labor-intensive hand-farming methodology still intact after all these generations, largely because of the hilly landscape of southern Trinidad. Mark, and his father before him, were among these farmers.
With his technical orientation gained from his Merchant Navy training, Mark travelled East to source equipment that could be re-engineered to traverse the Moruga Hills landscape to seed and harvest the rice and mill it mechanically. He followed this up by acquiring a Dryer that would retain exactly the required moisture content in the rice paddy, and Silos to store the paddy, so it could be milled just in time for the rice to be packaged under CSAM’s Vista Dorado Estates brand before being delivered.
This mechanization means that today CSAM’s Vista Dorado Estates produces large volumes of this indigenous Moruga Hill wild rice, and has even creatively blended the rice with Trinidadian ethnic spices to entice diverse local, regional and international palates. A Gluten- free, All-Natural Flour based on the rice has been developed, and other derivative products are underway. This will not only provide employment opportunities for farmers, but will also allow for the export of Vista Dorado Estates Moruga Hill RiceÒ to boost foreign exchange earnings for the island. This will be especially true once the Moruga Hill Rice Geographical Indication (GI) is created to recognize the value of the rice, while at the same time compensating its producers for preserving the authenticity of each of the five hybridized varieties. In a similar vein, CSAM is producing the Warao Red Corn and the African Black Bene, with the intention of marketing them in their All-Natural Organic forms to provide steady streams of income for the producers. The indigenous people of Trinidad have benefited immensely from this new outlook on these ancestral grains.
Further to this, CSAM has expended significant resources doing Research & Development (R&D) to ascertain the farming methodology that produces optimal yields and nutritional values of the Vista Dorado Estates brand of Moruga Hill Rice, specifically when grown under All-Natural, non-GMO, Gluten-free conditions. To complete the company’s circular production eco-system, relationships have been forged with the University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT) and the University of the West Indies (UWI) to use the waste from the rice and other vegetables grown at the farm, including land and aquatic foliage, to produce an All-Natural, non-GMO, Antibiotic-Free, Gluten-Free Animal Feed that will be pelletized for sale in the coming months. Manure from animals fed all-naturally is then used to enrich the soil on which the rice is grown intercropped with vegetables, all using the ecological and environmental guidelines of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (UN FAO).
And to fully capture the Vista Dorado Estates brand of Moruga Hill Rice with its derivative products and other all-natural vegetable produce, Healthy Lifestyles in the form of outdoor living and farm tours, and visits to the surrounding forest and river trails and nearby beaches, is consistently promoted and carried out by CSAM.
The future of Vista Dorado Estates Moruga Hill Rice has already been charted. A Moruga Hill Rice Village is in the process of being formed to widely institute what CSAM refers to as CSAM- compliant, that is, Eco-friendly, All-Natural, non-GMO, Gluten-free, Antibiotic-free farming and animal husbandry methodologies as developed and championed by CSAM. The Association of Farmers that form the Village, the Moruga Hills Organic Producers Ltd. (MHOP), has been established, and 14 farmers who are also astute business-persons have come on board to produce a further 32 acres for the 2021 second quarter crop cycle. This will be further expanded in 2021 to a total of 122 acres of Vista Dorado Estates Moruga Hill RiceÒ and other vegetable produce, all using CSAM-compliant production methodologies that honor the earth. A Moruga Hill Rice Seed Bank is also planned that will ensure the varieties of the rice remain in sufficient supply and genetically untarnished. But the Moruga Hill Rice Village will not necessarily be confined to Moruga alone. GI mapping has already been initiated by CSAM to ascertain what other areas of Trinidad, and eventually the region, are suitable for producing Vista Dorado Estates Moruga Hill Riceâ under the GI.
This is aided by the participation of Mr. Al-Haji Tejan-Cole, Head of the Agricultural Technology Foundation, WIPO Match, who had a clear vision for the Moruga Rice. Initial Matches were made through the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO): the Trinidad and Tobago Intellectual Property Office (TTIPO), Office of the Attorney General and Ministry of Legal Affairs and the WIPO Match Platform.
As early as 2015, TTIPO interviewed and invited CSAM to share its commercial strategy utilizing its unique genome, and provided CSAM with training on the in-depth methods of Intellectual Property (IP) applications. From that first interaction, and after reviewing CSAM’s presentation, TTIPO invited CSAM to participate in a nationwide pitch and evaluation of all existing unique product offerings in the country that could use IP in their commercially available products: cocoa, honey, coconut, fruit and the lone Moruga Hill Rice from CSAM. CSAM was judged a national winner, along with one cocoa and one honey producer, and WIPO sponsored a trip for the winners to Barbados where they participated in a regional competition with other winners from Costa Rica, Honduras, Belize, Republic of the Commonwealth of Dominica, Jamaica, Suriname, Guyana, Barbados and St. Lucia. Additionally, CSAM used the training provided by TTIPO at this juncture to independently commence its first trade mark application with the TTIPO. Here was the birth of further Matches.
At the Barbados Workshop WIPO provided further intense training and additional knowledge on the commercial use of IP, and very importantly, CSAM’s two Directors were exposed to techniques for making a commercial investor pitch, much like those shown on Shark Tank from global television. With the additional knowledge gained from the Barbados training, CSAM was able to complete its trade mark application with the TTIPO, and received its Vista Dorado Estates Moruga Hill Rice Trademark on January 19, 2018. To add to this, it was WIPO that made the ideal introductions at UWI so that CSAM’s R&D on its Animal Feeds could be completed and the product positioned for commercialization.
Coming out of the successful Barbados hemispheric competition, CSAM was then invited to participate in WIPO Match. In keeping with its spirit, WIPO Match bolstered the South-South triangular cooperation to a pro-bono relationship with a prominent law firm in the USA that specializes in IP and commercial agreements. This has resulted in a long and very rewarding relationship, particularly regarding legal advice on the protection and commercialization of CSAM’s IP. This legal guidance has proven invaluable as the company enters the global marketplace with Vista Dorado Estates Moruga Hill RiceÒ, already underway via our eCommerce website, www.vistadoradoestates.com, our recently executed Distribution Agreement with a USA and Canada Distributor and our ongoing discussions with CARICOM and European Distributors.
We at CSAM are truly grateful for the support of TTIPO, WIPO and WIPO Match in helping us to make the right matches.
Anbanet. Amerindians of Trinidad and Tobago. Retrieved March 20, 2021 from Anbanet.com: https://anbanet.com/caribbean/trinidad.html
Brereton, B. M. (n.d.). History of Trinidad And Tobago. Retrieved March 20, 2021 from Britannica: https://www.britannica.com/place/Trinidad-and-Tobago/History
Duke, J. (2015, August 14). The Story of the Merikins in Trinidad. Retrieved March 20, 2021 from The National Archives of Trinidad and Tobago: https://nationalarchivestt.wordpress.com/2015/08/14/the-story-of-the-merikens-in- trinidad/
Merikins Painting by Don Troiani. All Rights Reserved