Food Production Minister Vasant Bharath wants all lands that were under the control of Caroni (1975) Ltd to be returned to his ministry.
Bharath was speaking with the media, during a visit to farmers in Cunupia yesterday. Bharath said when the PNM administration shut down state-owned sugar producer, the lands were handed to the Ministry of Finance for disposal. He said he wanted to see the stopping of all housing developments started by the former�government on these lands. Caroni lands are some of the most arable in T&T and can be put back to food production, a move that would greatly reduce T&T's food import bill, Bharath added. He said T&T should not have to be importing produce such as fresh vegetables that can be grown locally. His ministry�will be looking at ways to get water reserves in place for next year's dry season so farmers would not have to suffer if a drought occurs similar to the one experienced this year, he said. Bharath said he would be looking at ways to get the praedial larceny squad fully operational to ensure that farmers are not robbed of their produce or livestock.
One of the complaints the minister said he received from former Caroni workers who received two-acre plots of Caroni lands for agriculture was that they live too far away from the land. Because of this they were unable to monitor their produce and many had their crops stolen. Bharath said his ministry would introduce a public awareness campaign to get home gardening going. This would come through the necessary dissemination of information about the ministry's programmes and incentives, he added. Expanded home gardens would help to reduce the food import bill and in turn help to lower the inflation rate, according to the minister. Bharath said he plans to visit the mega farms set up by the PNM next week on which a large amount of money had been spent, but only two have started churning out produce. He said the fate of these mega farms would be determined after he has consulted with farmers and members of other agricultural entities as to what would be the best direction going forward.
While there are no immediate plans to revive the sugar industry, Bharath believes that it can be profitable if done through mechanisation. He made it clear, however, that the government would not be getting involved in things just for the sake of it.�Bharath said he was also working on a plan to get compensation for farmers who lost their crops through disasters, within one month. He said this process had taken up to two years. He also pointed out that the authorities at his ministry need to become more vigilant in their monitoring of farmers and record-keeping. Anil Ramnarine, head of the Cunupia Farmers' Association, complained to Bharat about a shortage of labour and the price of fertiliser. Bharat said locally-produced fertiliser was selling at a high cost. He said the labour shortage skyrocketed when people gravitated away from agriculture and chose instead to work on government social relief programmes for two hours a day for a full day's pay. Ramnarine said a lot of farmers had to resort to mechanised farming to fill the void created by the labour shortage.