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Minister of Agriculture Clarence Rambarath, front row, left, Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi, centre, and Councillor Michael Johnson, right, pose for a photograph with farmers during the distribution of lease letters at the Society Lodge Hall in Marabella, on Wednesday, March 31. PICTURE RISHI RAGOONATH

The Government is about to finalise 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 for farmers. The supply has to be produce that they have 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 fulfil 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 whom I gave an approval letter to last week and 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.

He also said a mere 15 per cent of agricultural lands given to former Caroni workers are under active cultivation. Rambharat said they were moving towards reclaiming uncultivated two-acre plots which not under cultivation.

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.

Told that some former workers have complained of not getting lands, Rambharat said, “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 is 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.