The Barbados Association of Retailers, Vendors and Entrepreneurs (BARVEN) has stepped in to fight for farmers at River Plantation, St Philip whose land is being taken away by the Barbados Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (BADMC).
President Alister Alexander on Thursday instructed the farmers not to stop their operations and assured them that his association would back them at all costs.
“BARVEN will fight. We have no choice but to fight cause that is what we do – fight for justice,” he declared.
It was reported in another section of the media last month that some farmers were served with eviction letters while others received notice that their plots would be significantly reduced. The farmers said the letters indicated that the stipulations would take effect in a month.
At the time, Minister of Agriculture Indar Weir said the BADMC was not being unreasonable or trying to disenfranchise anyone.
Saying that hundreds of people were requesting land and the state agency was trying to give everyone a fair opportunity, Weir alleged that several farmers at River Plantation and other farming districts were inactive and their idle lands had become a haven for pests, including monkeys, and a hiding spot for thieves.
However, Alexander insisted that the BADMC’s move was not fair, adding that now the farmers finally had access to water – the lack of which had been an issue for many years – they should be given the opportunity to show they could make the land productive.
“It is common sense, it cannot be fair. If the Government had not provided the water that was necessary to make the planting of the lands viable, how could they be penalised? Any blame at all has to be laid at the Government’s feet, not at these farmers,” he told Barbados TODAY.
On Thursday, officers from the BADMC erected PVC poles on a 12-acre lot which has been managed by Ali Rahimatali for 17 years.
Rahimatali, who assists an elderly woman cultivating the land following her husband’s death, explained that markings were made for ten one-acre plots as his notice from the statutory organisation indicated his space would be reduced to two acres.
He said he had planted several crops on a few acres of the 12-acre plot, including cucumber, eggplant and okra.
Minister Weir had said that farmers who had planted crops but had been served notice should inform the BADMC so an amicable arrangement could be reached.
Alexander said BARVEN would hold him to his promise.
“BARVEN represents causes like this. BARVEN assured them that an amicable solution would be reached because that is exactly what the minister had said and they need not to be afraid,” he told Barbados TODAY. “I still expect the minister to keep his word. I expect that his word is his bond and that there has been some type of mix-up.”
Alexander said Rahimatali and some of the other farmers were “very productive” over the years but during times of harsh drought, and with the Browne’s Pond Catchment depleted at one point, the farmers could not maintain their operations and some of the lands had therefore become idle.
The BARVEN president said these issues were no fault of the farmers and they should not be blamed for their inability to work the land under those trying conditions.
“Within the context of the national meetings with the Prime Minister and the farmers, where they were mandated to produce a national plan for food security in Barbados, it goes absolutely against the spirit of that mandate. The farmers produced a document to Government and we expect that Government will now show good faith that they are serious about farmers,” he said.
“They are bringing in new farmers. We are not against bringing in new farmers but if you treat the old bad you can bet that you will treat the new bad also.”
Alexander described the current development as “an unfortunate situation” and said BARVEN was hoping for an amicable solution.
“For us, an amicable solution would be that no land is taken away from these farmers. Give them the opportunity now that they have water to utilise and if then they allow them to go into non-production then you utilise the necessary measures to take away those lands and put them in someone else’s hands,” he contended.
Rahimatali had explained that he had just hatched out cucumber, pumpkin and watermelon seedlings when he was served notice that his acreage would be significantly reduced, and he gave away a substantial amount of the seedlings. He said he also had plantain suckers to plant but was now afraid to do so.
However, Alexander advised him to continue his operations.
Rahimatali added that prior to the multi-million-dollar expansion project at Browne’s Pond, which came on stream in May, that body of water had reached a critically low level and farmers were instructed to refrain from pumping the water there.
As the pond was being expanded, he said, a makeshift stream was created but only a few farmers could benefit as there was not enough water to go around.
Rahimatali said two farmers then decided to apply for water through the Barbados Water Authority.