Government cannot afford to stay silent amid cries from farmers at the Spring Hall Land Lease project who are being driven out of business by chronic water shortages and threats of eviction, says Opposition Leader, Bishop Joseph Atherley.
As a matter of fact, Atherley is calling on Minister of Agriculture Indar Weir, to urgently come to the country with a plan of action to assist these farmers, as the situation has far-reaching consequences for Barbados’ food security.
“This is not only a situation that I want the BADMC (Barbados Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation) to speak to, but also the Minister of Agriculture because these are people who are only trying to feed their families and who are contributing to the GDP of this country. These are people that also contribute to our food security, as it is my understanding that they produce a large percentage of the local agricultural produce,” said Atherley.
In his interview with Barbados TODAY this afternoon, the Opposition Leader further contended that the development brings into sharp focus, Government’s recently implemented Garbage and Sewage Collection (GSC) tax, which represents a significant increase on the water bills of many farmers. “
Yesterday, farmers explained that the situation has got so dire that the farms are being rationed three hours of water per day, a significantly inadequate supply for large farms in drought conditions. Additionally, for the next four days, the BADMC has opted to shut off the water supply in a bid to replenish the wells, a move that farmers see as sure death for their business.
As if this was not bad enough, farmers also revealed that they are being threatened with eviction by the BADMC, as several of them, have been unable to pay their bills due to low production, which they claim is as a result of the long-term water issues.
However, Atherley suggested that Government needed to show understanding in regard to the debt owed by these farmers given that production is down, and they are therefore not in a position to pay.
“These farmers are perhaps not in a position to pay if productivity is down and productivity could be down because of the lack of water. This would drive up the prices of crops and affect market prices in a negative way. This is a vicious cycle that farmers must deal with,” said Atherley, while also suggesting that successive Governments have shown understanding in the past when it comes to debts owed by big businesses.
We cannot send the signal to any sector in Barbados that certain sectors are being given preferential treatment in terms of tax concessions and so on,” Atherley said.
“From time to time even big businesses owe money to the Government and history suggests that nothing much comes of these cases. So, when it comes to the other level of the economic scale, when persons rack up debt to Government not because of poor management, we need to equally treat to those situations humanely.”
Yesterday Chief Executive Officer of the Barbados Agricultural Society James Paul told Barbados TODAY that with the hardships that the farmers are going through, it was unconscionable to demand, under the threat of eviction, that all arrears be settled.
Barbados TODAY again made several attempts to contact officials at the BADMC and Minister of Agriculture Indar Weir but those efforts were unsuccessful.