Last Thursday (04/10/2018), Cabinet approved a proposal by the Minister of Planning and Development for vesting in the Ministry of Agriculture, Land and Fisheries, some 122 acres of Guave Road lands, to be excised from the Chaguaramas Development Authority (CDA), for the purposes of granting long-term agricultural leases to farmers working the land for decades.
This, according to Senator the Honourable Clarence Rambharat, Minister of Agriculture, Land and Fisheries, formed part of the Government’s overall thrust to addressing the challenge of land tenure. He made the statement at the opening ceremony for the launch of the new office of the Inter-American Institute for Co- operation on Agriculture (IICA) in Brechin Castle, Couva on Tuesday 9th October, 2018.
Minister Rambharat said it was a well-established fact that “most of our best farmers do not have tenure for the lands they occupy” and that it was disheartening to hear people – and in particular, politicians – opine on agriculture and “diversification” without first treating with the issue of leases for farmers. The Minister noted that for all the public discourse on the “rare” and “unique” soil quality in the Orange Grove area, none of his predecessors have ever distributed an agricultural lease in the area, save for 2-acre parcels under the Caroni (1975) Limited VSEP entitlement. “We talk a lot about agriculture and about all the great things that could happen in the sector and we leave that matter of land leads unattended but tell me, which investor makes a long-term investment in equipment, facilities and infrastructure, without having a long-term vision, rooted in a long-term lease?” he questioned.
In admitting to the audience that he remained committed to dedicating his time and resources to “the people who are actually producing food in this country”, the Minister revealed that despite being in receipt of two (2)-acre agricultural parcels from the State, only five (5) percent of those Caroni (1975) Limited VSEP beneficiaries were in actual production of those lands, with most of the nation’s food emanating from farmers squatting in the East/West corridor, Guayaguayare, Matelot, Moruga and Paramin; the latter farming community in which no farmer can boast of ever being granted a lease.
According to Minister Rambharat, since November 2015, more than 7,500 land title documents have been distributed to former Caroni (1975) VSEP workers and, since shifting attention to State-Land occupants, Cabinet “has dealt with about 500 parcels of agricultural land” since June 2018 to this present time. He said: “We have made some significant headway and while the number of files and the amount of work that remains to be done are significant, we will get it done.” In his Address, the Minister also hinted at Government’s plans to allocate land for housing development in both the Brechin Castle area and that of the former sugar facilities in Usine St. Madeleine as more of the former Caroni (1975) Limited assets are put to public use.
Attending the launch were the: Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture, Land and Fisheries, Senator Avinash Singh; Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign and CARICOM Affairs, Ms. Reita Toussaint; Deputy Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture, Land and Fisheries, Ms. Ramdai Sookdeo; Advisor to the Prime Minister on Agriculture, Dr. John Alleyne; Director of Management and Regional Integration (IICA), Mr. Diego Montenegro and IICA Representative in Trinidad and Tobago, Mr. Gregg Rawlins.