(Trinidad Guardian) An invasion of Guyanese farmers in the food basket of Aranguez is stirring up a hornet’s nest among local farmers who claim they are forced to pay exorbitant rent for agricultural lands and are being denied a livelihood, the result of the outsiders’ presence. The complaint was levelled by a group of Aranguez farmers last week, who clamoured for approximately 40 Guyanese farmers, many of whom are said to be illegal immigrants to go back home. There are approximately 300 bona fide farmers in Aranguez supplying crops to the nation. Aranguez farmer Ravin Doolam admits they have been facing no end of worry at the hands of the Guyanese.
Since the Guyanese moved into Aranguez four years ago, Doolam said rent of agricultural land has skyrocketed, making it difficult to eke out a living. Doolam said the Guyanese farmers have been offering land owners a higher price for freehold lands, which they (the locals) have been renting for years. With land running scarce in Aranguez due to the proliferation of housing, apartments and mansions, Doolam said locals farmers were being squeezed out of a livelihood, while the Guyanese farmers laughed all the way to the bank. Because of its ideal location, a lot of land can fetch TT$500,000 while an acre is priced at TT$3.5 million.
As little as three years ago, Doolam said, he paid TT$3,000 a year to rent an acre of land at Johnny King Road. Now, he has to fork out TT$8,000, which puts him in a financial bind. He said some farmers pay a higher rent. “Just now we will have no land on which to plant. The Guyanese capitalising every available space,” complained Doolam, as the other farmers shook their heads in agreement. Doolam admitted to having made a telephone report to the Immigration authorities about the Guyanese invasion, but there has been no follow up.
Doolam said he applied through the Ministry of Food Production for State lands in Edinburgh, but is yet to receive a response. Farmer Johnny Baldeo, who occupies three acres also admitted that rent has been increasing at a rapid pace, forcing farmers to give up their plots and move on to other pursuits. Baldeo pays TT$21,000 a year. “Some local farmers paying as much as TT$10,000 an acre just to keep their lands. It’s a heavy price to pay,” said Baldeo.
Lured to Trinidad
On Tuesday, during a tour of the area, the Sunday Guardian stumbled upon several Guyanese who admitted to being in Trinidad illegally. Many claim that their papers to live in the country were being prepared by Immigration Division and wanted to make T&T their home. Among them are married couple Derek and Seeranee Farose, Roy Kishnasammy and Dilip and Phillip James, affectionately called the “Bush” brothers. Cultivating half acre of land for the past year Krishnasammy, 40, said he fled Guyana after he couldn’t land himself a job.
Kishnasammy said for years he worked as a cane cutter in his hometown in Berbice to maintain his wife and three children. Everyday, Kishnasammy said he had to cut and tote bundles of cane, weighing more than 100 pounds on his head for it to be processed. The lifting of the cane, Kishnasammy said, started to affect his health, forcing him to quit.
Although he found another job, Kishnasammy said the money he took home was not enough. Unable to read and write, Kishnasammy said he was invited to Trinidad by a pastor from San Fernando, who told him that the country had a shortage of farmers. The pastor, who frequented Guyana saw the poor conditions under which the Kishnasammys live and offered to assist.
‘Family will suffer if I go back’
In 2008, Kishnasammy came to Trinidad doing odd jobs. He was told about the Aranguez lands which he began to occupy last year. Renting a half an acre at TT$6,000, the money Kishnasammy makes is wired to his family. Admitting that he did not obtain resident status from the Ministry of National Security to live in Trinidad, Kishnasammy said he was in the process of obtaining the necessary documents so he could travel back and forth. Every day, Kishnasammy commutes from San Fernando to Aranguez to tend his crops. Kishnasammy said while he yearns to return home, “I know if I do, my family go suffer.” He said Guyana had become so industrialised that land space was scarce.
In search of a better life
Sitting a stone’s throw from their rented land, Derek and his wife Seeranee had the world of worries etched on their faces after losing TT$20,000 worth of celery because of the unavailability of water. The couple was lured from their Essequibo Village in Guyana to Trinidad several years ago in search of a better life. Derek, 43, landed himself a job as a labourer during the construction phase of the Hyatt Regency Hotel, Port-of-Spain.
He then branched off to farming upon the completion of the hotel. Derek pays TT$4,000 for half an acre. Told that local farmers were in an uproar over the high rent they were offering land owners, the couple said the Bush Brothers were the guilty ones. The couple said they have put in an application for resident status which they expect to receive next month.
Fighting like crabs
At Ramlal Trace, brothers Dilip, 27, and Phillip, 35, said the local farmers were making a mountain out of a molehill and they wanted no bacchanal. The brothers are two of eight Guyanese farmers cultivating lands that span several acres. Phillip pays TT$15,000 for an acre and a half, the same price as every farmer on the street. He also rents an apartment in Aranguez at TT$3,000 a month. Expecting to be interviewed by the Immigration Division and police any time, Phillip said they have no problem going back to Guyana.
The brothers have been working in T&T without work permits. They go home every year for a short period and return. Phillip said he has worked in seven countries and never found himself afoul of the law or in confusion. “Anywhere I work my record has been clean. It’s not like I am here planting marijuana or robbing people. I am providing food for the country just like the Aranguez farmers.” Insisting that they have been investing in Trinidad, Phillip said the local farmers, many of whom are Indians, did not want to see them progress.
“Indian people always fighting like crabs in a barrel.” He said those who have voiced their displeasure were envious of their accomplishments and only wanted to bring them down. “They think I will take away their land. I don’t want their land. I have enough.” Phillip, who split from his wife said they came to Trinidad in 2006 after hearing that the country was in need of cane cutters. However, following closure of Caroni 1975 Ltd they were thrown on the breadline and decided to plant to survive.
A passion for agriculture
Land owner Deosaran Gosein described the brothers as hard working, honest and productive, which many farmers in Aranguez were lacking. “They have the drive and thirst to plant.” Gosein allowed Dilip and Phillip to plant on one acre of land rent free after seeing their passion for agriculture. “People have been tarnishing these guys’ names unjustly,” said Gosein. He said the land Phillip and Dilip have been renting, nobody wanted to work.
“If it wasn’t for them the lands would have been abandoned.” Gosein said Aranguez farmers were noted for renting land at one price and subletting to another farmer for a higher price just to make a dollar. Land owners have also been renting their lands to the highest bidder. “Whoever offers the highest price gets to occupy the land. That is how it works.” President of the Aranguez United Farmers Association Mukesh Rampersad on Thursday refused to comment on issue.