Farmers in the Upper West Watooka area, Linden, are calling for the new agriculture minister, Noel Holder to visit their community so that they could air long-held grievances and for solutions to be found.
According to Vilma Tyson, a resident farmer in the area, the people of Upper West Watooka have suffered for years from inadequate representation by various West Watooka community development committees.
She wants Upper West Watooka to be treated as a distinct community from Lower West Watooka. She is hoping for a billboard that states ‘Entering Upper West Watooka Agricultural Development Community’ to be erected on the main road at the boundary between the two areas since there are more farm lands and more farming done in Upper West Watooka than in Lower West Watooka where much of the designated farm land has been converted into residences.
Tyson has been instrumental in forming the Upper West Watooka Agricultural Development Group, which has sixteen members. She is the President of the group, which has a seven- member committee, including Vice President – Romeza Williams; Secretary – Kellyisa Peters; Assistant Secretary – Shondell Simmons; Treasurer – Sherlon Tyson; two committee members –Constance Bourne and Lionel Jones.
Participants at a meeting of Upper West Watooka farmers on June 21st, openly complained that they hardly received assistance from the previous government and that the leaders of the PPP/C dominated CDC of Lower West Watooka treat them with disdain and generally exhibit lack of accountability.
Tyson said that since 2001 she had requested that a health centre be built in the community and that homesteads have access to potable water, electricity and telephones but the health centre was placed in Lower West Watooka and while homesteads in Upper West Watooka have received electricity, they have not received potable water and fixed telephone lines.
She said that she was told two years ago that when electricity is placed in the area, the poles would be used to install telephone lines. She said now that a new government is in place she will renew her request to GT&T for fixed lines.
Saying that the Upper West Watooka farmers are not satisfied with the level of assistance they receive from the extension officer in their area, Tyson said the farmers are aware that the extension officer does not have ready access to transportation.
Additionally, “the extension officer operates more like a record clerk,” Tyson said. “She goes to your farm and asks you what you’re planting. She doesn’t know much about farming. That’s a serious area of concern.”
Land ownership is another serious concern, Tyson highlighted, stating that a lot of the farmers do not have title to the land they are farming.
She also said that people who have occupied the land for several years have had portions of their land allocated to new occupants. The female farmer/vendor, who hails from, Siriki, Pomeroon, and worked for years in the public service in the Office of the late Executive President, Forbes Burnham, said her father occupied land in Upper West Watooka since 1961 and his brother was there before him. She said that she went into the area eleven years after her father and occupied the land he had tilled but when she and her brother sought ownership of the 35 acres of land that her father had cleared and tilled over the years they were given 13 acres by the authorities.
Noting that before the formation of NICIL, most of the lands in the Upper Demerara Area, including West Watooka, were controlled by the bauxite industry, Tyson said her father had obtained permission from the bauxite industry to utilize the land that he was farming. She said the permit her father received was recognized by Demba, Guybau, Guymine and Linmine.
Stating that over the years, her family paid one dollar annually to occupy the land, Tyson said her father died in 1991/92 and Linmine advised her brother in 1994 to apply for the land because the family had possession of it for over twenty-five years. He applied for all thirty-five acres in 1998 when Linmine called on all the people, who occupied land in the area, to renew their permit. According to her, “that was the time, unknowing to people in Linden, Government was taking back land and that was a trick because once you surrendered those papers, they could say that they can’t find it. But we never surrendered those papers. We still have the paper where Linmine advised my brother in 1994 to apply for that land.”
Tyson added that the respective persons in the bauxite industry, who presided over the land distribution “recognized that government was trying to trick the people, who lived on the lands, and advised us to apply for the land”. She further stated that once people obtain titles for their land, she is confident that they will access financing from lending institutions.