However, president of the Sheep and Goat Farmers’ Association, Shiraz Khan, yesterday said no decision will be taken on the proposed sites until all options were fully explored.
“We have not made a decision as yet but we are going to consider what was placed before us for the farmers. We need for them to make a decision on exactly how they feel. We need to accommodate these farmers and feed this nation,” he said, adding that farmers were also seeking legal advice on the matter.
In sweltering heat yesterday, a high-powered ministerial delegation, accompanied by Khan, president of the Agricultural Society of Trinidad and Tobago, Dhana Sookoo, and more than a dozen farmers toured the sites in a further effort to appease the farming community.
Food Production Minister Vasant Bharath, who has taken much heat for supporting the irate farmers over the past week, said efforts must be made to identify parcels of land across the country with a view to formalising land tenure for farmers.
“That is the biggest problem. That will come from the land use policy that we have,” he stated.
“We have an indication at the EMBD (Estate Management and Business Development Limited) of all the Caroni lands. So we have 80,000 acres already that we can start with rather than the ministry identifying whenever they can what lands are available. We can be proactive in deciding.”
He added, “Had I not come in the back here I would not have known that there is 200 acres of land here. So I have already told the PS (Permanent Secretary) immediately during this coming week, we are going to start looking at large land banks like this.” Khan, however, expressed serious concerns about the manner in which the lands close to Egypt Trace will be acquired, since several farmers were already planting crops in the area.
“We are going to put farmers against farmers. What we are going to have is another battle on our hands to acquire these lands,” he said.
Bharath said, though, that large portions of the lands were unencumbered.
“The point is that our preference will not be to go and move these people to put other farmers. We want to accommodate all the farmers,” he said. “We have got to start identifying blocks of land like this very quickly across the country and start to formalise tenures.”
Housing and Environment Minister Dr Roodal Moonilal supported Bharath’s view, saying that any movement of farmers to the site “should not create conflict but can lead to a development of the infrastructure for all farmers.”
He assured that infrastructure will be developed for all farmers at the site.
Moonilal said the Ministries of Food Production and Housing were working feverishly to resolve the farmers’ impasse in the shortest possible time. “We want a win-win situation so that all are happy at the end of the day,” he said.
“I hope that there is more dialogue to take place. This is not the end. I am confident we will have an amicable solution.”
Legal Affairs Minister Prakash Ramadhar, who also visited the sites, avoided giving a personal opinion on the destruction of the crops in Egypt Village and D’Abadie on Easter Sunday, which had led to the current situation.
He said, however, that “any destruction of food is regrettable. There are many other bits of information and facts when one hears the totality of the picture, it changes the context of things and what has happened here today is very healthy.”
“When forces collide we do not want our people, our farmers, to be victims of that and that is why a new structure is to take place so that in the future, things would not occur like this,” he added.
Ramadhar also dismissed the notion that there was dissent among ministers involved in the impasse.
“There is a new paradigm of coalition politics and no one would ever suggest that any of those forces be silenced. That is how democracy works.
Nobody should be silenced. We just have to work together,” he said.
Trade Minister and Chaguanas East MP Stephen Cadiz and Chaguanas Mayor Orlando Nagessar also attended the tour.