According to Stabroek News of Monday, September 9, Trinidad’s Finance Minister Mr Howai indicated that the government is moving ahead to enable the cultivation of, first, 10,000 acres and later, 90,000 acres in Berbice.
The Guyana government is advocating divestment of our rich agricultural lands to Trinidad. Our farmers must take a dispassionate look at this issue and not be overwhelmed by those who take such positions, whether from an ideological standpoint or because their friends stand to gain.
There seems to be a disorganized system as regards the processing of applications for our small and big farmers and no one in the government is working to regularize the situation.They are not looking at a progressive programme for land to the tiller, and when farmers do not have land, they are denied the opportunity of so many things, including the right and liberty to access their own farmlands where they were born.
Lest I be misunderstood, let me say clearly that I am not against leasing rich agricultural lands to Trinidad or any other Caricom country, but I do not believe that it should not in every instance be the first or only option, and our own people should not be left aside. Let me add also that I am not against private enterprise. However, farmers have never been happy working for foreign companies or government; they do not give farmers the kind of comfort they require.
In a case where the farmer knows that he owns the land permanently he is much more likely to spend time on improvement. Given our endowment of extensive, rich agricultural lands, it is a matter of commonsense to make the expansion of the agricultural sector one of the main planks of our development strategy to ensure that people have an adequate, regular and varied supply of nutritious food.
A country which depends for its food supply on external sources is in a vulnerable position. It is incapable of guaranteeing its citizens adequate or regular food supplies, and finds it difficult (if not impossible) to maintain food prices at reasonable levels. Moreover, such a country is susceptible to serious political pressures from outside.
Food is a weapon. It is the principal tool in our negotiating kit. Food has been used as a weapon in the ruthless power-play which characterizes the ‘game of nations.’
I therefore believe that our own farmers should be given the opportunity to acquire those lands, not only to retain the 10,000 acres, but also to expand on them. Our farmers have acquired great experience and skills and given the opportunity now they will be able to make very valuable contributions to Guyana.