Beckles, Cummings vow to do all to resolve leases for farmers

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Government MPs Foster Cummings and Pennelope Beckles chat with 91-year-old farmer Willhimea Benn during land tenure consultations at Solomon Temple, Wallerfield on Saturday. – SUREASH CHOLAI

Government MPs Pennelope Beckles and Foster Cummings, whose constituencies of Arima and La Horquetta/Talparo are bounded with each other, said on Saturday they intend to do all they can to help resolve the long-standing issues affecting farmers of Wallerfield and surrounding districts.

At a meeting held at Solomon Temple, Tractor Pool Road, Wallerfield, over 60 farmers from Arima, Demerara Road, Wallerfield, Aripo and Heights of Guanapo took full advantage of free legal advice offered by a team of lawyers working with the Heliconia Foundation.

Beckles, the Minister of Planning and Development, said it was not easy for an MP to hear the plight of farmers, sometimes single women, who are frustrated and want to give up because they cannot get their leases renewed for decades.

She said while some of the younger people were not interested in farming it was incumbent on MPs to encourage people to get into farming for food security and to help offset the high cost of food.

Beckles said apart from the legal obstacles to getting leases renewed particularly where the original tenant has died, the farmers are also victims of praedial larceny.

Both MPs rejected claims made by Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar who used a photoshopped flyer of the event to suggest the meeting was to discuss land grabbing.

Beckles said all of the attendees were “genuine farmers” some of whom had complex legal issues to resolve and were optimistic that they would get the necessary help free of charge.

“My only objective and focus, and I am certain that is the focus of my colleague, is to help and assist the farmers of Wallerfield and environs – which include Agua Santa, other people from Aripo, Maturita, Pinto, some from Demerara Road – to assist them in ensuring that the challenges they have with their leases are addressed.

She said officials from the Office of the Commissioner of State Lands, the Agricultural Development Bank, the Ministry of Agriculture, and the Land Settlement Agency, the Agricultural Society, the Aquaculture Association, and licensed land surveyors were there to also advise the farmers.

Beckles said the only reason why this event was been organised was to assist the frustrated farmers “because of the length of time they have been waiting for these matters to be addressed and we thought it absolutely necessary to bring together all the players to put our constituents in a better position to be able to have their matters addressed.”

Cummings, the Minister of Youth Development and National Service, said the renewal of leases was one of the most critical matters affecting farmers and criticised the Opposition for taking a “very noble objective” of trying to resolve “issues which have been languishing in the past and to turn it into a masquerade ball.”

He said there were hundreds of farmers who were affected and noted the Heliconia Foundation intended to create a file for each farmer and see it through to the approval stages.

Both Cummings and Beckles acknowledged the issue of illegal quarrying affecting some farms and intend to follow up the issue with the Minister of National Security and the police to ramp up resources.