FARMERS cultivating land at Soogrim Trace in Endeavour are calling on the authorities to take meaningful and urgent action to alleviate a rash of long-standing problems which threaten their livelihood.
On Friday, several of the affected planters met with the Chaguanas West Member of Parliament Dinesh Rambally to relate their perilous situation, and press for remedial measures promised to them over the years.
MP Rambally was told that escalating crime had now penetrated the food basket of Central Trinidad after Boysie Balchan was held up by two cutlass wielding robbers who physically assaulted him and robbed him of $300 last week. They also took away his vehicle while he watered his pumpkin plants. All this while his traumatised wife looked on.
Rambally was told that top of the list of concerns for the defenceless farmers is security to ward of the criminal elements who operate with impunity and use threats of violence against them.
They said that perennial problems involve flooding, lack of access roads and irrigation ponds, as well as the absence of a tenancy agreement have worsened their ability to contribute to feeding the nation.
Close to 46 farmers try to earn a living performing the back breaking work on approximately 20 acres of land for which rent up to $20,000 a year is paid to Government.
Among the farmers are many who were relocated from Egypt Village when their lands were acquired to construct Government houses.
“Real ‘tiefing going on in the back here,” complained Haresh Kungeharrysingh, a young man who says he is discouraged with the latest turn of events. He said he lost his fields of pepper, pumpkin, and spinach which he was forced to abandon after repeated episodes of predial larceny.
He said a neighbour lost his entire crop of sorrel to the brazen thieves.
Reports to the Chaguanas Police have not resulted in any action and he he pleaded with the Predial Larceny Squad to step up their patrols in the area.
Kungebeharrysingh also said the isolated location of his garden is now a favourite place for thieves to burn stolen wire to extract its copper which they sell to the scrap iron dealers. “They are like, ‘We don’t care about you all’,” he said.
He also highlighted the growing menace of swarms of bees which the farmers must be on the lookout for, lest they are attacked and bitten which can result in loss of life.
MP Rambally said solutions to the problems have been proposed by the Opposition since 2021 and the Government is well aware of what must be done.
“The Opposition has asked on many occasions. in 2020, 2021, 2022 and as recently January 2023. Even while Clarence Rambarath was agriculture minister we were asking to mobilise and properly resource the Predial Larceny Unit, to give them vehicles and the tools and equipment to do their job.
“After him you had Avinash Singh and it was raised with him in the Parliament. Then it was raised with Minister Kazim Hosein, the newest appointee who inherited the incompetence from the one before,” said MP Rambally.
He said the matters which the Opposition feels they can assist with have been addressed and recalled the Government promising drones to easily deployed when reports are made of predial larceny.
“We have not heard anything about that since last year. There is need for the implementation of a better strategic unit supported by the Police and even the Army,” Mp Rambally said.
Apart from the House of Representatives where the Shadow Minister of Agriculture has brought attention to the crisis, MP Rambally said Senator Wade Mark had also asked questions last month.
“But it is the same excuses you have been getting from the Government, rehashing it over and over again. Now Soogrim Trace has become a hot spot for predial larceny,” said MP Rambally.
Another farmer Balliram Baijoo said the farmers were promised bridges to access their lands off Soogrim Trace but this has not materialised and they are forced to utilise a circuitous route instead.
Baijoo stressed the importance of renewing the Provisional Tenancy Agreement so that the farmers can approach the Agricultural Development Bank and get loans to invest in agriculture.
“As it is we have to constantly dip in our pockets. We don’t have money to farm. Even when it floods we are not paid compensation because there are no documents because the PTA has expired,” said Baijoo.
MP Rambally said the Government is using Parliament as an outhouse for dumping all their failed excuses and promises but the Opposition will continue to raise the concerns and problems of the farmers.
“I will speak to the Shadow Minister, and the Minister as well and invite him to Soogrim Trace,” said MP Rambally