Dark days of escalating food prices, shortages and price gouging are looming for consumers as a result of Government's bulldozing of almost $20 million worth of food crops-to build HDC houses-at Chaguanas and D'Abadie on Monday. Protesting farmers whose crops were destroyed by the Housing Development Corporation's bulldozing, have called on farmers to don black and join in a demonstration near the Red House tomorrow. "What happened on Monday has made it a dark day for farmers in this country and for citizens' food production. Everyone needs to unite in this effort,"said Shiraz Khan, president of the T&T Sheep & Goat Farmers' Association, yesterday.
Khan confirmed concerns about food prices as farmers from North and Central Trinidad continued protests yesterday against Housing Minister Roodal Moonilal and HDC head Jearlean John at Woodford Square and outside the HDC building in Port-of-Spain. Police and Guard and Emergency officers with machine guns confronted farmers who were "armed" only with pumpkins, corn and other ruined crops which they had brought to deposit in front the HDC building. Khan heaped scorn on Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar's halting of the bulldozing, saying she acted only after the bulldozing of acres of crops was completed.
Khan said: "They knew what they were going to do. I blame the entire Cabinet for this." Khan rejected Government's offer of alternative locations for farming. Agricultural Society president Dhanoo Sookoo added: "We call for Jearlean John to please leave office for those who are more fit to hold that office."
Khan added: "May I add Moonilal to that too. The egg don't come without the fowl. We farmers know that. Two of them have to go." He said farmers held documents which showed they had tenure for the land which HDC wanted to use for housing projects. He called on HDC to show proof of "ownership". Crops destroyed in both locations on Monday included bodi, sweet potatoes, pineapple, cassava, peas, corn and other vegetables.
Khan said the Agricultural Development Bank estimated there was about $4 million in loans to farmers. He said total worth of the crops could be estimated by multiplying this by four or five. Khan said he expected food prices to rise by "500 per cent." He added: "If farmers have to demonstrate about the amount of agricultural land that was destroyed, they would not be selling any food on the market and it will certainly create shortages. "In fact we hope prices escalate so people will understand how much T&T depends on farmers. "When you have 20 acres of cassava or bodi bulldozed by these wicked people, what you expect-not shortages?
"I expect people will jack up prices. I expect they'll take full advantage of price gouging from this weekend."
Khan thanked Labour Minister Errol McLeod for the apology which McLeod delivered on the issue. He also acknowledged that Government Senator David Abdulah had donned a Fitun jersey and expressed solidarity with protesters on Tuesday. But Khan said that was not enough and if Government had respected its manifesto promise, the HDC would not have bulldozed farmers' crops. He said farmers were sticking to their four demands: "...Starting with an immediate apology from Moonilal whose ministry destroyed farmers' lives. Every farmer must also be compensated for the destruction," Khan said. "We also want written guarantee that farmers will not be treated this way again by any Government and also, we want immediate implementation of the land use development policy."
Khan said protests would move to the Red House block tomorrow at 1.30 pm even though the Lower House would not be sitting. The House is on a break since Persad-Bissessar and several ministers are overseas. Khan said he was aware a House committee would be in session tomorrow. He added: "Farmers must take a leading role. We're fed up and ready for change. The time has come for T&T to awaken because what is being done to us will affect the livelihood of each citizen. "What will happen with future food security? You can put houses on arable land but you can't put farmers on non-arable land. When we walk around Parliament on Friday, we're walking for the people of T&T."