Food Production Minister Devant Maharaj says he is happy with the $1.3 billion allocation to his ministry in this year's budget.Also expressing confidence that farmers will benefit from the $75 million being granted to the Agricultural Development Bank (ADB), Maharaj said the ADB had not received any financing in the last three years but had still managed to assist hundreds of farmers. However, he believes this cash injection will benefit many more farmers in the year ahead.
But at least one member of the agricultural sector is challenging Maharaj's claims and projections.After listening to Finance Minister Larry Howai's two-hour presentation of the $64.4 billion budget–the largest ever presented–Maharaj said he was particularly heartened by the move to increase the fines for anyone convicted of praedial larceny.During his presentation, Howai announced that there would be an immediate 50 per cent increase in the fines.
Praising the efforts by members of the Praedial Larceny Squad in assisting the farming population, Howai said since its inception less than a year ago, the squad had so far arrested 51 people for various offences.On the decision to increase the fines, Maharaj said the move "would send the right message" that Government was serious about protecting farmers and ensuring their produce did not end up in the hands of thieves.
However, president of the Sheep and Goat Farmers Association Shiraz Khan said he was disappointed with the allocation to the agricultural sector, saying the budget was "geared more towards satisfying the electorate rather than developing the agriculture sector."
He said despite what the Government was attempting to portray, this sector had not been given any incentives for growth. Also questioning Government's claims that there had been growth in the agricultural sector in the past year, Khan challenged the authorities to produce the proof."What we have had growth in was in the area of importation, in imported commodities, and we can prove this," he said.
On Maharaj's claim that the ADB would be able to assist more farmers thanks to the $75 million allocation, Khan said, "That money to the ADB is nothing new, it has always been so. In 2010, they received $110 million."Asked about the decision to increase praedial larceny fines, Khan scoffed at Howai's claim that 51 people had been arrested."Fifty-one arrests? We have 51 incidents every day," he said.
"If you want the officers to do their job well, you have to put the necessary resources in place for them. In Chaguanas, we have 14 people to work 24-hour days, for seven days a week. That is not right."If you really want to make a dent in praedial larceny, give them the necessary resources."