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Minister of Agriculture, Clarence Rambharat

Gail Alexander

Plant or lose your state land.

That’s what’s involved in the Agriculture Ministry’s plan to enforce covenants regarding state land leases – especially agricultural leases where tenants agreed to plant and sustain cultivation.

Tenants will be relieved of responsibility for the land if they haven’t honoured the covenant and the plan is to redistribute such land to young farmers and farming families, Agriculture Minister Clarence Rambharat said yesterday.

He revealed this during his contribution to yesterday’s 2021 Budget debate.

He said the initiative was among plans for use of the Ministry’s $500 million allocation for 2021.

The plan is to enforce covenants in existing and expired State Land leases particularly agricultural leases to ensure that required agricultural production is taking place and to terminate and recover land where there is non-compliance.

Rambharath said, “We’ve been working hard to give leases, and accelerating but that comes with very important responsibilities. Youths especially are saying they want to cultivate the land, many of them from farming families.

He said many of them have exhausted the land available to them and the only way to allocate to new tenants is by enforcing the covenant which general agri-lease holders have with Government. This requires such leaseholders to plant the land and sustain cultivation.

Rambharat said part of the Ministry’s 2021 allocation of $500m will be used to enforce the covenant to ensure that the non-compliant are “relieved of the responsibility to hold the land and it will be redistributed in a fair, transparent manner with priority to young farmers and those in farming families who want to expand what they want to do now.”

His Ministry also has several other projects for youths for 2021 together with the Ministry of Youth Development.

This includes introducing a Young Farmers School in Chaguaramas. A curriculum will be offered via the ETIS Division and UTT Development along with homestead parcels of land across T&T of between two to five acres for qualified young farmers This will be for shade houses, hydroponics and technology-enabled farming.

Expansion of farm certification for entry into niche markets will also be done. Together with ECIAF an introductory programme in Environmental Management, Forestry and Reforestation and Soil Conservation is also targetted.

Rambharat a said there was a lot of talk about the PNM Government not giving the two-acre plots of land to the former Caroni workers. But he said 86 per cent of those entitled had gotten their plots – 1, 286 out of 1,484 in one constituency alone, “And they get it from a PNM Government!” he declared.

Rambharath said he‘d distributed 8,000 leases to former Caroni workers in his tenure.

He said about 400 to 500 other people can’t be found to give the leases to, and he was begging them to come forward. Rambharat explained he was entitled to receive a lease but was waiting to be the last one to do so.

He said there were 3,290 Caroni agricultural tenants who were on lands, some of them very active and some may not be. He said once the Ministry allocation for 2021 was forthcoming work would be done on former agricultural tenants to give them leases where they comply with Government policy on agriculture.

The first stage of this is on in Princes Town and Tabaquite and will apply in other parts of T&T where there are former cane farmers.

Other plans include a project to identify former Caroni (1975) Limited land and provide long term agricultural leases to farmers. The first phase is in Tabaquite, Claxton Bay and Princes Town.

Agricultural land leases will also be delivered in Lopinot/Bon Air/Arouca; Tabaquite; Cunjal- Barackpore; Moruga; Orange Grove; Diego Martin; Toco/Sangre Grande; Oropouche, Point Fortin.

He also said implementation of a mandatory vessel tracking system for the local fisheries sector will protect fishermen and identify those criminals who pose as fishermen.

Rambharat slammed UNC leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s budget reply but said she was correct in identifying land tenure matters as the biggest issue in agriculture. He detailed a host of other agriculture plans.

OTHER AGRI PLANS

⁃ Accelerated investment in Digital Transformation for the improvement of State Land administration and acceleration of the renewal and delivery of agricultural land leases. There are 30,000 State Land files for agriculture, residential, commercial, and institutional. 10,000 have been digitised and propose to accelerate using additional resources- to complete remaining in about 24 months.

⁃ Complete ongoing works in Plum Mitan Food Crop Project – Invest in new pumps and accelerate land leases for farmers –

⁃ Repair in Phases 1 and 2 up to 100 kilometres of agriculture access roads on an annual basis – priority areas- Toco Sangre Grande; Tunapuna; St. Joseph; Talparo/Las Lomas; Tabaquite; Paramin/North Coast

– Arrangements for the long term management of irrigation channels, water pumps and water resources by the State

-Development of an online platform for purchase/sale of agri produce and support for private farmers to develop veggie box delivery services –

Training/support to farmers to introduce technology on farms via Agri Incentive

Expand the National Seed Bank at Chaguaramas to produce additional local seed varieties and also engage in contract production of local seeds for private farmers –

* Modern animal tagging and tracking system for the livestock sector –

⁃ Modernize the communications system, vehicle fleet and staffing for the Praedial Larceny Squad

⁃ Develop an online training platform for current and new agriculture training modules

⁃ Expand the capacity and capabilities at Marper Farm, St Augustine Nurseries and La Reunion Estate to meet demand from farmers and householders for planting material

– Expand delivery of local seeds to households –

⁃ Expand cultivation and improve bean quality in the Cocoa sector – tough current partnership with UWI and renowned global chocolate producer. Project has started in St. Augustine Nurseries –

*Support to farmers to develop ready-to-cook veggie packs for sale to State Clients including National School Feeding program –

* Completion of Public/private arrangements for packing houses at Brechin Castle and Piarco.

* Completion of Tabaquite packing house/development on that site of a new Farmers Market

* Construction of Namdevco Farmers Market. Chaguanas support for farmers for expansion of exports into diaspora markets