Still no official disclosure on the land-for-farming deal

After many weeks of silence on the land-for-farming deal between Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago, crystallized in a Memorandum of Understanding earlier this year, Agriculture Minister Dr Leslie Ramsammy still appears disinclined to make the details public.

The agreement envisages investments by T&T entrepreneurs in mega farms here in Guyana on lands allocated for the purpose by the Government of Guyana. It is essentially a business deal that fits in – or at least so it seems – with the food security ambitions of the region.

Although the MOU was concluded months ago there are details which we still don’t know: like the price at which the land is being made available to the Trinidadian investors, the types of crops that are likely to be cultivated, the likely value-added spinoffs for the manufacturing sector, whether or not these reported mega-farm projects will provide employment for Guyanese and whether or not these farming pursuits will coexist with our own routine agricultural programme without undue worry on either side.

We must of course be clear on the desirability of pressing ahead with regional food security which we are told is pretty much at the top of the Caribbean Community’s agenda. The Guyana/T&T land-for-farming deal is, we are told, one of the earliest manifestations of the seriousness of that objective.

On the other hand there is the issue of the seeming lack of transparency associated with the deal hammered out during a visit here almost a year ago by T&T’s Food Production Minister Devant Maraj. More to the point is the fact that several months after the conclusion of the MOU Guyanese are none the wiser about the details even though information has already reached us from Port of Spain that sections of the farming community there are opposed to the deal and want it set aside.

This newspaper has already floated the issue of whether or not the opposition to the deal being faced by the government in T&T might not be a result of the failure of the political administration in Port of Spain to discuss the matter with the farming community there before moving to the stage of an MOU, which, incidentally, is pretty much what happened here. The other point that should be made, of course, is whether or not, in its current political circumstances, T&T might not have already placed the land-for-farming deal closer to the back burner.

What we should seek to avoid here is a circumstance in which the extant MOU is simply left to gather dust while its intentions remain actualised so that the worst thing Minister Ramsammy can do is simply put the whole issue in cold storage. Incidentally, it would do no harm if the political opposition were to move to seek a measure of clarity on the status of this project if only because of its connection with the wider issue of the goal of regional food security and Guyana’s particular role in the realization of that goal. But then this issue should not have to come to a place where it becomes the subject of yet another depressing and debilitating brouhaha. The Minister of Agriculture should simply bring the nation up to speed on this matter by, among other things, making the details of the MOU public. And now that the reticence of sections of the farming community in T&T country is public knowledge, he also needs to come clean on exactly where we are as far as the agreement is concerned.

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