Farmers on the Cheddi Jagan International Airport (CJIA), Timehri reserve are worried that they would be uprooted permanently without due process following the destruction of some of their crops by the contractor for the expansion project.
“Without any notice the Chinese people (employees of China Harbour and Engineering Corporation) come with dey machines Friday and just start to grade down all our stuff… eddoes, all them bearing coconut trees, sour sop, sweet potatoes, cassava, papaw, cherry, de pear everything,” Royston Holder, a farmer who plants on the reserve told Stabroek News on Tuesday.
However, the CJIA and the Public Works Ministry have in the past said that several notices have been issued to the farmers and residents. Neither has since commented on the destruction of the crops.
Holder acknowledges using state lands to farm but said he is peeved at the manner in which his crops were destroyed. He said he is not hopeful as he does not know what will happen to his mother and siblings when they are forced to move as farming is all he knows and government has not offered any alternatives for farmers like himself.
“This is all I know. All my life is farming I know that brings in the money…my father, he started this and had been living here for donkey years …he died earlier this year and now all the work he did gone to waste because they just grade it down,” Holder lamented.
He explained that the family farm, spanning about four acres aback of the airport, was started by his father Leslie Holder over 30 years ago. He said that along with a few men, his father settled at the location because where he lived at Soesdyke the land was not fertile for the crops he knew to plant. “He came here when people didn’t even know about here. It was big, big trees and he had to chop and clear away with he bare hands and then fork this place and make it to what it is today,” another farmer, Tyson (only name given), said.
“Look at how this place flourishing …he work real hard I tell you …is not two cents work that man put in and it is sad that he only dead this year and didn’t really get to benefit much from it and worse now that they just ups and bruk everything up,” he added.
Like Holder, Tyson said that he knows that the land belongs to the state and that they were told that it was needed for the airport expansion. Nonetheless, he, too, is upset about the manner in which his produce was uprooted.
“We can’t stop them because is government land and they say is for development and so but we want them to see how hard we work and they could put something in place that we could get some other lands to farm somewhere…we want to give we time too to reap these things and not let them waste,” he said.
He appealed to government and specifically to First Lady Deolatchmee Ramotar to be a voice for them and to ensure that when they are put off the lands that they are placed somewhere that they can continue earning to upkeep their families. “I hope they could see with us. I pray they understand our struggle…Mrs. Ramotar she is a mother and she loves farming so she knows firsthand, let her good sense prevail and tell them we just hustling…we want to work, we want to farm, just ensure when them put we off we get something to keep us bubbling,” he appealed.
Land to the tiller
Chairman of the Timehri North Community Development Council (TNCDC) Daniel Fraser told Stabroek News yesterday that he believes that the farmers should remain where they are as they were given approval years ago. He said that if the lands continue to be destroyed he foresees that there will be “a confrontation”.
“They are sending foreigners into a land to destroy the people’s living. The constitution said ‘Land to the Tiller’ and they are tilling that soil for over 20 years… they got approval from the past government …isn’t that worth something in their eyes,” he asked.
“My fear is that if it continues the government is setting the community up for confrontation…that (expansion) project was cut in parliament how is it that they still working there? What they are doing is illegal and they talk about illegal?” he questioned.
In a press release, the TNCDC said “We wish to state with pellucid clarity that the government continues through the Ministry of Public Works, to act as though there is a consensus, based on discussions and dialogues, and that the residents who have inhabited these lands for generations, are inanimate beings.”
According to the release, the government has not approached the community’s representative body to discuss any plan nor have they afforded any avenue for any such discussions.
The release said that the TNCDC was undertaking “an involuntary Relocation Plan’ which they will present to the Ministries of Housing, Human Services and Finance and to the parliamentary opposition parties for their consideration and action.