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Illegal structures on Caroni lands off Papourie Road, near Harrypaul Village.

While the Ministry of Agriculture, Land and Fisheries plans to repossess State lands from farmers who fail to cultivate, leaseholders say the Government needs to examine why some farmers are not producing.

From death to praedial larceny and inaccessibility, farmers on estates formerly owned by Caroni (1975) Ltd believes the ministry should first address these issues before taking away lands from people who want to plants crops.

During Tuesday’s parliamentary debate on the National Budget 2021, Minister of Agriculture, Land and Fisheries Clarence Rambharat said the Ministry plans to enforce covenants in existing and expired agricultural leases.

It is to ensure that the required production is taking place and to terminate and recover land where there is non-compliance.

Rambharat said many leaseholders exhausted the lands available to them and the only way to allocate to new tenants is by enforcing the covenant which general agri-lease holders have with the government.

This agreement requires leaseholders to sustain cultivation.

Rajkumar Rampersad, president of the Exchange Farmers Association, disagrees with this move, saying that farmers are willing to plant the lands.

“The thing is, in the past, we were advising our members to plant the lands. What we are doing is kind of unique in the Exchange Farmers Association.

“We have a cultivation agreement where if the people are unable to plant their lands for some reason, they might be aged, they might not have the capital because it takes quite a lot to plant on two acres of land, we would have somebody, and they sign a cultivation agreement.

“So we bring people who are interested in planting and recently we have been having more people.

“We do that, and we partner with the people, and what we do, we charge a small fee and pay the owner of the plot.

“It is like $1,700 per year, which is $3,400 for the two-acre plot.”

Rampersad told Guardian Media that out of over 7,000 leases given out, approximately 10 per cent is used for farming.

He said lands are lying dormant since the Government shutdown Caroni Green Limited (CGL) in 2017.

The Exchange Farmers Association was one of many groups that benefitted from producing for CGL.

Rampersad said they later saw people squatting and planting on those lands and in 2017, they wrote to the ministry, but there was no outcome.

He said three weeks ago, a farmer in Central Trinidad died.

In cases like this, the children and grandchildren of the farmer can inherit the lease and continue cultivating the lands.

But for agriculture to thrive, he said the Government has to inject funds to protect them as thieves are taking their crops.

He said when farmers report the theft to the Praedial Larceny Squad, there is no outcome as the lawmen often report that they have no vehicle.

They claim that even when they report it to Couva Police, there is no result.

Some people want to produce but cannot access government incentives because they are not registered farmers and find it difficult to get a badge.

Rajkumar said these things are impediments to the farming.

“Well so far, one or two people call me, and I told them we would try and champion the cause. We are trying to get all the lands planted as I said.

“It is a little bit difficult, but I think with the $500 million that they said they put extra in the budget if they could channel some of that here.

“We have something organised. Through the COVID, you would realise agriculture is number one. We are supposed to be self-sufficient in feeding ourselves, and we can start exporting again.”

Farwan Boodram said he had his land for over a decade, but it is difficult to cultivate as accessibility is needed.

“I think they need to try some other way because where my piece of land is, you cannot go inside there. I went in with my car, and a part of the cradle broke. It is difficult to go in there, not only for me alone but a good few farmers in that area.

“Not everybody has a van to go into there, and when I tried some times I go, it was dangerous for my car, so I came back out,” Boodram said.