Twelve years after the closure of the sugar cane industry, Cabinet has finally approved $130 million compensation for cane farmers to be used for agricultural diversification.
The funds were provided by the European Union (EU) to address the negative social and economic impact of the closure of Caroni (1975) Limited in 2003.
During a meeting with four cane-farming groups on Wednesday, Planning Minister Dr Bhoendradatt Tewarie announced that Cabinet had approved the disbursement of funds to be used for the benefit of private cane farmers and cane cutters.
Tewarie, who is the national authorising officer for the EU Grant Resources, said the schedule for disbursement highlights a first tranche of $27 million, followed by a second tranche of $75 million and a third tranche of $28 million to be paid in 2016.
He said once the groups agree, a technical committee, led by the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Planning and Sustainable Development, including representatives of the Ministry of Food Production and representatives of the cane farmers, would develop a suitable formula for equitable distribution of the funds.
Food Production Minister Devant Maharaj, representatives of the Cane Producers Association of T&T, the Cane Farmers’ Co-operative, Trinidad Islandwide Cane Farmers’ Association and Direct Delivery Cane Farmers’ Co-operative and EU representative Kathrin Renner were also present at the meeting.
Contacted for comment yesterday, president of the Cane Producers Association Seukeran Tambie said the $130 million would not be given directly to cane farmers.
Based on a strategic business plan submitted by the association in 2013, Tambie said the funds would be used to set up several agricultural projects, including commercial hot peppers, citrus and mixed crop, aquaponics, rabbit-rearing and sheep and goat farming.
Tambie said a needs-based analysis report would be done in the former sugar belt.
Saying cane farmers were overlooked when compensation was distributed to sugar workers in 2003, Tambie added: “I am pleased that after so many years Cabinet has given final approval the funding to be used for the benefit of cane farmers.”
Tambie said when the industry was closed in 2003, more than 6,000 cane farmers and 3,000 cane cutters were left on the breadline.
He said suicide rates climbed, families broke up and poverty peaked. Tambie said all of the former cane cutters and farmers would be located and a technical team would co-ordinate resources. He said another meeting would be held among stakeholders next week.