Biblical scripture states that for everything there is a season-a time to sow and a time to reap. And with no intention to blaspheme or offend, as the verse would apply in our country-a time to bulldoze once notices have been served. The recent act of wanton destruction of crops is unforgivable although we have just moved from a time when forgiveness is supposed to be foremost in our minds. Commendation must be given to the Prime Minister who, based on reports of the incident, quickly sent an instruction from overseas to immediately stop the crop destruction. Perhaps there is some truth in the statement that when the cat is away, the mice will play and in this case, run amok in the cultivated fields. At least it will not be difficult to determine the identity of the chief mouse or merry mice involved and I am confident that some tails may be chopped. How depressing and embarrassing it must be for the Prime Minister to be engaging in talks in Brazil that include boosting our local agricultural sector when, apparently without her knowledge and approval, crops were being bulldozed away and farmers were scampering to the courts for interim protection. Of course the farmers may have no problem if offered golden packages of compensation and are relocated, but how do we ensure that such a travesty to mother earth does not recur?
There is no denying that the election manifesto of the People's Partnership entitled "Prosperity For All Manifesto 2010" is a comprehensive document that outlines the plans and initiatives to be implemented in major sectors in order to achieve sustainable development. Stated boldly in the manifesto are six pillars of development for agriculture and the first reads: "Respect for agriculture, the farmers and the land." Obviously the action which forms the subject matter of the complaint runs contrary to this expressed policy and so there must be accountability from those who issued the instruction. What makes it worse is that there has also been a gross departure from some of the key initiatives stated in the food production and food security manifesto policy including promises to "introduce a national agricultural land inventory system which documents all allocations by the State; effect a national land use policy that specifies and protects land to be used exclusively for agriculture; and to regularise 'squatter farm lands' on the basis of cooperative effort." Perhaps this unfortunate event will jumpstart the implementation of the stated policies so that we do not have to relive such a traumatic experience.
Back in time
Over the last year Minister Vasant Bharath has proven that he is capable of reviving, upgrading and advancing an industry that was literally put to pasture and neglected over the decades. Over the past few months I have listened to Minister Bharath explain the initiatives that have been and will be introduced to resuscitate the agricultural sector and it is clear that good things are happening. In fact, this minister is correctly rated as one who is effective and efficient in the performance of his mandate. However, the incident with the bulldozing of more than 50 acres of crops in D'Abadie is reported to have taken Minister Bharath by surprise, raising yet another issue that there is a breakdown in communication between ministries on matters of mutual concern.
Undoubtedly Minister Bharath was reminded of his days in the opposition as the member for St Augustine when residents of Spring Village squared off with security officials attached to the HDC after they were prevented from entering farm lands in the area. Back then in May 2008, those farmers claimed that plans were afoot to bulldoze 50 acres of land in the area to put up housing developments. What was worse is that one week before, tractors had bulldozed five acres of farm lands, destroying crops that were almost ready for harvesting. MP Bharath, as he was then, condemned the "oppressive, discriminatory and viscous destruction of farmers' lands at Spring Village." Now the poor minister, having made strides in a short space of time to boost food production, finds himself having to extend olive branches, extinguish fires and publicly admit that he had no knowledge of the act in D'Abadie which directly touches and concerns his portfolio.
Which came first
There is no chicken and egg story when it comes to food and shelter. Both are basic amenities and provision must be made for citizens in need of either or both resources. The Prime Minister has explained that while she understands the urgent need to deliver housing to citizens, "there must be equal consideration to the long-standing tenure of practice conducted by farmers in certain areas."
Admittedly a balancing exercise must be conducted when confronted with competing needs that both require immediate attention and so it would have cost little or nothing to have delayed the bulldozing, allowed the crops to reach full maturity for harvesting and, in the interim, an attempt could have been made to resolve the matter, with litigation in court being a last resort. Instead, it is predicted that because of the destruction of the crops, food prices will continue to rise and citizens will be discouraged from looking to farming as a means of viable income. And again, the action is contrary to the manifesto policy on housing which promises "to be based on the development of homes, families and sustainable communities and will be aligned to an overall land use policy."
Thanks to farmers
How many of us take the work of our farmers for granted and show no gratitude for the role they play in our nation's sustainable development? The agricultural sector has always been treated with scorn yet those who operate in this industry comprise some of the most talented and dedicated people in our society. We have to treat our farmers with respect and stop jumping on the bandwagon for personal or political gain. We can only hope that out of this "bad" will cometh good.