‘Orange Grove squatters’
By SASHA HARRINANAN Friday, January 25 2013
FOOD Production Minister Devant Maharaj yesterday fired back at protesting farmers who are demanding access to lands at the Orange Grove Estate (OGE) in Tacarigua, where they once planted short-term food crops.
Calling them the “the Orange Grove Squatters”, Maharaj said 63 of the farmers had indeed been successful in obtaining land for farming at the estate.
Noting that his ministry processed 171 proposals from the squatters who were farming on the land, Maharaj said, “at the end of the assessment process, approximately 63 former squatters of Orange Grove along with approximately 200 other applicants were successful in obtaining land for farming.”
Maharaj made it clear that food security is of paramount importance and he and his staff are committed to working with all farmers including those at the OGE. However, he reminded those protesting farmers that the land in question is still being surveyed for final distribution, hence the continued wait for documents giving farmers permission to resume cultivation at OGE.
This was in direct contrast to claims made the day before by approximately 60 farmers who picketed the ministry’s St Clair, Port-of-Spain head office over extensive delays in distribution of land for agricultural use at OGE.
Wearing red shirts, the men and women held up placards with several political references, including one about the Opposition PNM’s complete sweep of all 12 seats in Monday’s Tobago House of Assembly election. The message on that placard read - “Farmers of Trinidad, stand firm for your rights. Follow Tobago.” A drawing of the PNM’s symbol, the Balisier flower, was used as an exclamation point at the end of the statement in the placard.
In the case of these farmers who once grew short-term vegetable crops at OGE, they were clearly rejecting the 12-plus months they have been waiting on the Food Production Ministry to complete its survey of an estimated 400 acres of land.
Speaking with the media on Wednesday, the farmers’ spokesman Nehru Singh said ministry officials kept telling them they would regain access to the land and be provided with documents, “next week or next month”.
“Last week Monday we came and met with Devant Maharaj and he told us to give him seven days. Seven days was yesterday (Tuesday). This morning we came to meet him and we can’t even get to talk to him. We saw him come in and he just came out of his vehicle and went upstairs,” Singh said.
President of the Agricultural Society of TT Dhano Sookoo is very passionate in her defence of farmers when during a radio interview yesterday, she said, “these farmers have been without income for more than a year, waiting on the ministry to finish its survey.” Sookoo also said she was unsuccessful in her attempts to speak with Maharaj via telephone to request an emergency meeting to resolve the matter.