Cotton Tree farmers sue over crop losses

-claim negligence in D&I management

More than two dozen cash crop farmers of Cotton Tree, West Bank Berbice have moved to the High Court seeking damages in excess of $10 million for losses, saying that the Mahaica, Mahaicony, Abary-Agricultural Development Authority (MMA-ADA) was negligent in management of drainage and irrigation, which caused persistent flooding of their farmlands.

“The MMA knew that there was going to be flooding and they did not notify any of the residents that they were going to block the dam,” attorney Nigel Hughes, who is representing the 28 farmers, told a press conference yesterday.

The farmers had complained that since sometime in 2011 there was a sea dam breach nearby, which resulted in saltwater seeping into their farmlands, killing almost 50% of their seedlings. They also said that the sluice that would aid in draining of the water from the land was closed sometime in September by the MMA Scheme and the Regional Democratic Council (RDC) without their notification. The saltwater coupled with the backed up rainfall flooded their farms, causing them severe losses, they said.

Last December, a group of about 75 persons organised a meeting of the residents and had invited 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.

Hughes on Tuesday filed a writ of summons against the MMA-ADA and Attorney General Anil Nandlall. The defendants were commanded to within ten days after service of the writ to enter an appearance in the High Court for the matter.

The farmers are seeking damages in excess of $100,000  for alleged negligent management of the drainage and irrigation canals and waters in the Mahaica, Mahaicony and Abary drainage area on or about the 1st day of October, 2012, which they blame for causing their crops to be damaged.

They are also seeking in excess of $100,000 in damages for breach of the statutory obligation to maintain the drainage and irrigation of the Mahaica Mahaicony Abary Scheme during the months of October and November of 2012.

In addition to this, the farmers are also claiming exemplary damages in excess of $10M “on the basis of the defendant’s refusal to compensate the plaintiffs because the plaintiffs had engaged the opposition on the issue of the floods.” They also seek costs, interests and any further judgment that the court sees just.

Some of the farmers told Stabroek News that after their plight was highlighted in this newspaper, an official of the MMA-ADA visited their community soon after and was very vocal that they had complained to the opposition. “He (name given) come lil time after and he blue vex ask is who invite Nigel… he seh  if we want talk to opposition, then let opposition help we ’cause we ain’t get nothing fuh get from them…. Since then, them don’t have no time with we,” the farmer said.

Agriculture Minister Leslie Ramsammy had told this newspaper 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 had 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.

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