RADHICA DE SILVA
The Government is about to finalize arrangements with an American company for local farmers to supply produce for the Caribbean region.
This was revealed by Agriculture Minister Clarence Rambharat during the distribution of lease letters to 17 farmers from the Marabella Trainline, on Wednesday night.
Each farmer was given a two-acre parcel of land at Golconda on which they would farm a variety of crops.
Speaking to the media after the ceremony, Rambharat called on more farmers to come on board and commit to supplying the North American firm with high-quality produce.
“They have identified Trinidad as the hub for growing some of the agricultural produce that they want to distribute to their stores in the region and they would require a supply from farmers,” he explained.
“The supply has to be produce the firm has identified that they need in their stores. It must be of a quality that they have identified, and a frequency that they have identified. To fulfill that project, we will need some farmers to come on board. So, these farms today, and farmers across the country, would have an opportunity to do that,” Rambharat said.
He also encouraged people to apply for land under the Homestead Programme.
“The government is going to advertise the criteria [for Homestead] and for state land generally. When we have available agricultural lands we will advertise,” Rambharat said.
He noted that this has not yet been done because the government was dealing with applicants who have been waiting for over six decades.
“There is a farmer called Gobin Cantasingh to whom I gave an approval letter last week. He said to us he has been waiting for 61 years. On average, the land that I deal with relates to persons who have been waiting for more than 30 years,” Rambharat said.
The Agriculture Minister also noted that a mere 15 per cent of agricultural lands given to former Caroni workers are under active cultivation. He said they were moving towards reclaiming uncultivated two-acre plots which are not under cultivation.
“Based on the plot-by-plot surveys which were done last year, those are about 9,200 plots,” he confirmed.
“About 3,500 or close to 4,000 are under the EMBD, and more than 3,000 are under the Commissioner of State Lands. When we did the plot-by-plot survey, only about 15 per cent of that is in any form of agriculture which means that the vast amount of the two -acres parcels are not in agriculture,” Rambharat said.
He added: “I have asked the EMBD and the Commissioner of State lands to take the necessary steps. One is a notice which has to be served on everybody to cultivate. For those who cannot do that, the land has to be retaken.”
Once the lands are reclaimed, Rambharat said they will give the lands to active farmers for cultivation.
He noted that fraudulent activities have taken place as it relates to Caroni lands.
When told that some former workers have complained of not getting lands, Rambharat responded:
“We have different types of issues relating to the Caroni two-acre parcels and the residential lots. Some involve fraud so on the agricultural side, I have said to people who have not received their letters to either go to the EMBD or Caroni because those leases, as far as I know, are available for distribution,” he said.
He added: “On the residential side, I accept that of the 7,400 workers who should have received residential leases, it is just about 4,400 who would have gotten. Those who have not gotten it’s because the site is either the subject of a court matter or there is some statutory approval or other approval that is outstanding.”
Under the VSEP package, former Caroni workers received a two-acre agricultural parcel of land and a residential lot. However, this occurred more than a decade after the company closed down in 2003 and some of the lands are still inaccessible, even though $400 million was spent by the Government on a road programme meant to provide access to the plots.