Last update: 07-Dec-2013 2:36 am
Saturday, December 07, 2013
Trinidad & Tobago Guardian Online
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Ex-cane farmers give ministers business plan
Former cane farmers affected by the closing of Caroni (1975) Ltd’s seven years ago met with Planning Minister Dr Bhoe Tewarie and Food Production Minister Devant Maharaj yesterday to present them with a document outlining the exit strategy for former employees of the sugar industry.
Seukeran Tambie, general secretary of the Cane Producers Association of T&T (CPA), said the thick bounded document clearly outlines farmers’ economic diversification plan. Titled Exit Strategy for Former Sugarcane and Sugarcane Workers, the document was put together by the Cane Producers Zone Enterprises Company Ltd.
About 100 farmers showed up outside the Eric Williams Financial Complex where the 1 pm meeting with ministers Tewarie and Maharaj, a four-member CPA team, the EU representative to T&T and other ministry officials was held. “One has to understand that for seven years, not one cent came to the benefit of these poor people,” said Tambie, as other farmers milled around in small groups in the complex courtyard.
“The purpose of this meeting is to deliver our final document that we have been working on for the past six months to develop the exit strategy for cane farmers. In December, the CPA and the Ministry of Food Production signed a memorandum of understanding, under which the ministry will provide $1 million from European Union (EU) funds given to the T&T Government for use in post-sugar cane diversification efforts to help the CPA establish a cane producers secretariat.
At the time, Tambie said the secretariat would have six months to complete research into the socioeconomic needs of 6,000 former cane farmers and 3,000 cane cutters.
In July 2012, Tambie issued a plea to Tewarie for help in accessing a grant of 72 million euros offered by the EU. Tambie said the proposal was already approved by the EU and the 2012/13 tranche of $160 million was given to the People’s Partnership Government on behalf of the farmers in December 2011. A further $350 million was expected to be supplied by the EU as part of the T&T National Adaptation Strategy (TTNAS) agreement.
“What is in here is sustainable development for cane farmers, long-term income-generating activities: hot pepper project, aquaponics, rabbit farming, small ruminant farming.” Flipping through the document, Tambie said: “I hope the Minister of Food Production smiles when he sees we have now put together a strategy that will really show T&T how food security can be done.”
Speaking in a telephone interview after the hour-long meeting, Tewarie said the CPA team was told the business plan would be read and analysed. “There is limited funding, in terms of the EU funding, for ex-cane farmers,” he said. Tewarie said the $160 million 2012/2013 tranche the EU approved went into the Government’s Consolidated Fund, which is aligned to the Ministry of Food Production projects to support agricultural growth, food security and to reduce the cost of food in T&T.
“There is no direct EU funding for cane farmers, as such. That is where the confusion always arises. I think there has been a fair amount of misinformation about what the funding is for. The funding is to support farmers to be productive in the agricultural sector,” Tewarie said. “It is not direct financial support. It involves infrastructure, roads and irrigation.”
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