Much has already been said in recent days, both here and in Trinidad and Tobago, about the agreement struck between the two governments on the allocation of large tracts of land here for the pursuit of farming ventures by Trinidadian investors.
While we are still awaiting the public disclosure of all of the details of the Memorandum of Understanding between the two governments regarding the land-for-farming deal, it is instructive to reflect on both the issues and implications that inhere in the squall that appears to have been unleashed in T&T last week over the announcement in the country’s 2013 budget presentation regarding the country’s land allocation arrangement with Guyana.
If it is generally accepted that there is much merit in regional initiatives designed to enhance Caricom food security and that those agreements should take advantage of the respective strengths of the territories of the region, there are questions about this land-for-farming arrangement that are worth raising.
First, there is the matter of the claim by Trinidad and Tobago’s National Foodcrop Farmers Association (NFFA), an organisation purporting to represent 19,000 farmers that it was not consulted on the deal. More disturbing is the position taken by the Agriculture Society of Trinidad and Tobago that the country may not need land in Guyana after all, since the government is yet to address issues that have to do with the allocation to farmers of vacant agricultural land in Trinidad and Tobago. Put differently, they are asking the government in Port of Spain to tear up the MOU.
Quite what we are to make of these disclosures is, for the moment, less than clear and we are yet to see whether the stakeholders in Trinidad and Tobago will press ahead with their planned protests and where such protests might take the deal. It does appear, however, that the authorities in Port of Spain may not have thought through the implications of the land deal with Guyana for their own constituency before signing on to the extant arrangement.
Rather less has been heard of the issue here in Guyana for the reason that we are – to a lesser extent than Trinidadians – accustomed to a culture of non-consultation on matters of critical national importance, though the point raised in Tuesday’s Stabroek News editorial about the failure of any of the business support organisations to demand greater transparency on the deal with Trinidad and Tobago is surely worth taking seriously.
These comments, of course, must not be mistaken as bashing the Jagdeo Initiative, which has long been acknowledged as a worthwhile initiative designed to galvanise Caricom into creating a regime of enhanced food security and significantly reducing expenditure on extra-regional food imports. More than that, the allocation of land in Guyana to intra-regional food cultivation initiatives has already been subjected to region-wide discussion at the highest levels. Of course, the governments of both Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana need to understand that initiatives of the magnitude of the allocation of thousands of acres of land to foreign investors – albeit, Caricom partners – warrant full and thorough national stakeholder discussion. This is exactly the point that the business support organisations and other stakeholders in Trinidad and Tobago are making, both to their own government and to the government and people of Guyana. In a sense, they are showing us the way.
As things stand there is a good deal of uncertainty as to where this initiative goes. While some commentators have been calling for more information on the MOU signed between the two countries, at least one agricultural support organisation in Trinidad is calling for the deal to be scrapped altogether. Here, it is worth mentioning that even at this eleventh hour Agriculture Minister Dr Leslie Ramsammy would do his ministry and the Government of Guyana no harm at all by simply making the MOU public.
In the final analysis it has to be said that the wall which the agreement appears to have hit is, in large measure, a function of the culture of secrecy that is endemic in the political behaviour of the Guyana Government – and which keeps getting it into more and more hot water – and, it would appear, the Trinidad and Tobago government. Much more than express regret over any negative fallout that may result from the brouhaha that has erupted in Trinidad and Tobago over the issue, it is perhaps more appropriate to fervently express the view that the experience results in a positive shift in the attitude of the Government of Guyana on issues of transparency and public consultation.
A final point worthy of note has to do with the desirability of all Caricom territories wholeheartedly embracing regional food security initiatives worked out by regional governments and overseen by experts. In this context it would be more than a little disturbing if the current fretfulness of the Trinidadian farmers and farming support groups were indicative of a deeper reluctance to embrace the virtues of a regional approach to realising food security.