Farmer Khadeem Kenedie shows off his pimento peppers.

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Tens of thousands of farmers cannot access the many incentives offered by the Ministry of Agriculture. That’s because a large segment of the farming population does not own or are not the title holders to the land they work on.

According to the Agricultural Society of Trinidad and Tobago, up to 80 per cent of productive farmers do not have land tenure ship.

During his budget presentation, the Minister of Finance announced a $500M injection for the Ministry of Agriculture taking its allocation to the billion-dollar mark. Considering Minister Clarance Rambharat had previously said that 75 per cent of its budget goes towards recurrent expenditure such as salaries, this one-off allocation may very well go towards development.

Coupled with the at least 10 incentives for farmers highlighted in the Ministry of Agriculture’s website, one may think it is the best time to be a farmer. But without land tenureship, most of them will not be able to reap its benefits.

It’s a big problem that’s holding back development and growth for young farmer Kayma Kenedie.

Kenedie does not own the land he and his family plant their vegetables on along McNair Extension in Cunupia.

“I am currently in a predicament because I don’t get Government incentives, I cannot make advancements that I want like water retention ponds or help in accessing markets to sell my produce such as supermarkets and hotels.”

Kenedie said farming is a risky business and people are reluctant to invest fully in the industry.

“Nobody will invest thousands of dollars into the sector without getting back any money.”

He admits that for those who do own their land the process to reclaim what they spend is expeditious. However, Kenedie believes the issue of land ownership is the biggest hindrance to food security.

And speaking of youth, he said landowners are reluctant to rent their property to young farmers. A rental agreement would help farmers access the benefits. However according to Kenedie,

“In the sector there is a lot of fraud so persons are sceptical about signing agreements with people because you have persons who are land grabbing and trying to change deeds of ownership so that is a hindrance right there.”

Now, this is not a new issue. It is very much on the radar of the Ministry of Agriculture, in fact, yesterday the Minister said he met with farmers in Moruga to collect data for this process.

Guardian Media reached out to him and he said the ministry has been making progress but there is still a lot of work to be done.

Minister Rambharat said while they’re processing applicants, they are simultaneously digitizing the files. He said of the 30 thousand state land files, so far, they’ve only processed one-third of that.

He hopes in two years to finish the remaining 20 thousand.

And the minister said there are about 50 thousand files from former Caroni Lands and squatters still to be processed. He’s hoping in this financial year to accelerate work on those files.

Minister Rambharat said he will speak more on the issue during his contribution to the budget debate.