Cotton Tree farmers seek payout for losses after flooding of lands

A lone surviving eggplant (boulanger) plant stands in the yard of Singh

-action necessary to avoid disaster, says Ramsammy
By Marcelle Thomas

Cash crop farmers of Cotton Tree Village, West Berbice are counting enormous losses after the persistent flooding of their farmlands caused by the blocking of a Sluice at D’Edward Village and made worse by the cutting of dams nearby by the Region Five Regional Democratic Council (RDC).

However, Minister of Agriculture Dr. Leslie Ramsammy explained that the closure of the sluice was done to fix an underground problem, which could have resulted in  major flooding to the entire area and residents were aware that the sluice would be closed. “This wasn’t something done to affect anyone, it was done to protect them. We didn’t do it with any negative intentions, we did what was necessary because we are right at the mouth of the Berbice River and if it had collapsed wow that could have been major,” Ramsammy told Stabroek News.
According to the farmers, since sometime last year there was a sea dam breach nearby, which resulted in saltwater seeping into their farmlands, killing almost 50% of their seedlings. In addition, they said that the sluice that would aid in draining of the water off the land was closed sometime in September by the Mahaica, Mahaicony, Abary (MMA) scheme and the RDC, without their notification. The saltwater coupled with the backed up rainfall flooded their farms, causing them severe losses, they said.

Farmers, their wives and children walked Stabroek News through some of their damaged farmlands, where rotting vegetables were visible.

There was evidence of what once was flourishing bora and corilla reduced to brown and withered vines clinging to the ‘brambles’ they once ran on. Each farmer listed his losses in the hundreds of thousands, ranging from $200,000 to over $400,000. They are now living each day with the uncertainty of their next meal and they want compensation or sufficient seedlings and fertilizer to balance their capital investments.

A section of the farmers as they relate their plight to AFC Chairman Nigel Hughes.

“All me corilla, bagee and tomato gone, we nah accustom to buy greens so this digging a big hole in meh pocket right now… the thing is when they give you anything is some small packet with seeds that don’t even grow… if they ain’t gon put money in yuh hand, give proper thing so we could at least start over fresh,” said Ramala, one of the farmers.

The farmers are angry they were not given notification of the closure of the sluice so that alternative arrangements could be put in place to salvage their crops and they blame the authorities for making no provisions for them.

Last Sunday, a group of about 75 persons organized a meeting of the residents of one of the villagers and invited attorney Nigel Hughes, to whom they gave the history of the flooding and how they have been shunned by the authorities whenever they filed a complaint. The residents said that they were tired of suffering and wanted to highlight their plight with the hope of gaining the attention of the relevant authorities so that the problem can be addressed and they can be given some form of compensation for their losses.

“Look man, we tired a this thing. Every time is the same thing. If is not the saltwater is the rain. We gat to deal here. We complain suh till we can’t complain no more… this last rain wash out everything we have and now we want everybody to know what we going through because we gat family to feed and bills and bank to pay,” said one irate farmer.

Averting disaster

A lone surviving eggplant (boulanger) plant stands in the yard of Singh

Ramsammy last evening told Stabroek News that the move to close the sluice was necessary as engineers had found a widening hole in one of the reservoirs nearby. “We had to close off the three-door sluice for a period to do some repairs. There was a very huge hole in one of the reservoirs near to the sluice that the engineers discovered… if it got bigger, it could have weakened the sluice and then we would have known disaster,” he said.

“It was decided that when the weather allows, we would close the sluice and repair the hole. So, in October, with the forecast saying we would have sun, we began…We were in the final stages of the repair and without warning the rains came and within 24 hours it was decided that though the structure wasn’t yet what we wanted, we opened the sluice,” he added.

One farmer told the gathering that on November 28, when they were flooded again, they reported this to Chairman of the MMA authority Rudolph Gajraj, who visited and promised that plans would have been made to curtail the problem. He recommended that one of the dams be cut, which was done. However this only worsened the situation, with more flooding of saltwater onto the lands, as a result.

Then came the rains on December 5, which pounded the entire Berbice district and once again the farmers said that they had to relive the same flooding ordeal.

In order to alleviate the situation, the farmers are recommending that the sea dam be repaired and fortified to avoid saltwater backing up and or flooding the area. The other recommendation is that during the dry season fresh water is released to push out the saltwater when the sluice is opened to drain the land. They also recommended that there be a mutual arrangement made with the Guyana Power and Light Company, which uses water from the canal for cooling its generators so that when the rainy season approaches, the sluice could be opened before it reaches the recommended 53GD.
When asked about compensation for the losses the farmers suffered, Ramsammy said he was unable to discuss that at the moment.

Meanwhile, when Stabroek News visited the sluice, fisher folk pointed out the rapid collapse of the access road for vehicles and pedestrians to the dock near the D’Edward sluice. There were huge cracks in the road and the users stated that they were fearful that soon a vehicle traversing the area will fall into the nearby river.

Both the farmers and fisher folk plan to visit the capital to highlight their plight as they feel that only persons from Georgetown are heard and get redress for their problems. “We coming Wednesday to town. It lil dear (expensive) but we want government hear we because like is only when you in town them is listen,” said one farmer.

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