(Trinidad Guardian) Demanding relocation and compensation, a handful of irate farmers confronted Agriculture Minister Clarence Rambharat yesterday, as he braved rains and potential floods to meet them after their farmlands were devastated by Tuesday’s earthquake.
However, the majority of the 40 farmers eventually expressed satisfaction with Rambharat’s visit, saying they only wanted him to assist them as soon as possible to get back on their feet.
Los Iros Hill View Farmers Association president Reshinand Ramraj said the farmers lost 20 irrigation ponds and 40 acres of farmlands. He said hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of crops, including hot pepper, tomato, ochro, bodi and eggplant, were buried in the dirt, while a plough and a tractor fell into the cracks created by the 6.9 quake.
“Many farmers are afraid to be on the area because the land is shifting at an alarming speed,” Ramraj said.
When Guardian Media returned to the area yesterday, the RE Road was impassable. The crew had to climb up and down steep precipices about 12 to 14 feet high to get fresh photos of the devastation.
Simone Cooper and her sister Akiesha Adams said they walked for an hour to get to the Erin volcano. They reported that there were several new active cones with fresh mudflows emerging off RE Road.
Farmer Nobbie Mathura trudged through cracks, slopes and embankments to get to his pimento crop.
“I cannot let this crop go to waste. I picked 10 bags of pimento and we managed to get it out. I lost over $400,000 worth of crops and equipment,” Mathura said.
Lopsided tomato trees ready for harvest were inaccessible. Irrigation ponds which were once 20 feet deep were also filled up with slush.
Farmer Anil Maraj said at least 10 farmers were in immediate need of relocation. He said although some farmers faced minimal loss, the Government should assist in giving compensation to everyone so they could go back to productive farming.
One of the oldest farmers in the community, George Ramdath, said much of the landslips triggered by the earthquake could have been exacerbated by the destruction of the forested buffer zone which was cleared for agriculture by new farmers in 2014.
In an interview during his visit, Rambharat said he will move as quickly as he could to assist the farmers. With regard to compensation, he said he will prepare a report and take it to Cabinet and Government will determine whether this can be paid.
“So far, RE Road is the only farming community affected. From what I’ve seen, I am recommending that some of these farmers be immediately relocated because they can no longer use the land to farm,” Rambharat said.
Saying Los Iros was a highly productive farming community, Rambharat said in 2016-2017 he spent $3 million to rehabilitate the RE Road.
“The soil type is clay and there is a lot of movement towards the sea. There are some places where the land cannot be restored to productive agricultural use and we will be looking to relocate farmers to other areas so they can continue productive farming,” he said.
Saying it did not matter whether the farmers had leases or not, Rambharat said all farmers who can prove they were doing productive farming will get assistance. He also said the Los Iros farmers will get leases in three phases, the first of which will be given by December.