Central farmers question Prime Minister’s ‘land grabbing’ claims

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

File photo by Roger Jacob

SOME 100 farmers of the Central Farmers’ Association (CFA) have been joined by their colleagues from the Korea Village Farmers’ association in taking up the Prime Minister’s challenge of a debate on the allocation of agriculture lands.

Earlier last week, Dr Rowley scoffed at a legal letter sent on behalf of Dhanraj Balkaran, the president of the CFA, who questioned the allocation of lands under the new Youth Agricultural Homestead Programme (YAHP) of the Ministry of Youth Development and National Service.

The CFA farmers wanted to know where was land being found for the programme when former Caroni (1975) Ltd workers like him, and many others, were still begging for title documents to lands vested to them.

In the letter, attorney Richard Jaggasar, who represents Balkaran, said his client was concerned “that these youths/persons selected were not selected fairly/justly.

“In these circumstances, his members have to wonder if the process was rigged against them.”

He also said the State should “conclude” that the rights of former Caroni workers and existing farmers “far outweigh, both in number and experience, the 200 new applicants.”

“Logically, if the lands are leased to the existing farmers, their experience will save the state the aforementioned cost to train new farmers. In addition to saving money the act of granting lands to the existing farming population is one that will be seen as a long outstanding promise completed.”

Speaking at a national PNM meeting at the Calvary Community Centre in Arima, Dr Rowley said it was ironic the letter was sent on behalf of people who had illegally taken hold of state lands but were accusing the government of land grabbing.

“I want to say to whoever wrote this letter, no one in this country is a stranger to any land. “The problem is that we have a generation of people who were not interested in farming and as the older farmers died, farming skills died off, and until we can get younger farmers to farm we won’t make a dent in our food import bill. All people in TT should have access to agricultural resources. All we ask is that you show a genuine interest in agriculture, whether it is crops or animal husbandry.”

On Friday, the CFA’s farmers were joined by their colleagues from the Korea Village Farmers association in their call for the government to reconsider any decision to allocate lands to any programme before they received theirs.

“All of the farmers hold land tenure documents and some are before the courts requesting renewal of documents from commissioner of state lands who has unlawfully refused to do so.

“On that basis, the Prime Minister is called upon to explain where and why he called the central farmers ‘land grabbers,’ a joint statement from the groups said.

Balkaran also clarified he was not associated with any political party having contested the last local government election as an independent candidate for the Felicity/Endeavour seat.