Delinquent farmers who let the arable land entrusted to them by Government fall into disarray, are being issued with eviction notices.
And though he acknowledges that it may be an unpopular decision, Minister of Agriculture Indar Weir, says action must be taken if Barbados is to meet its food production goals.
He is taking the delinquent farmers in the FEED (Farmers’ Empowerment and Enfranchisement Drive) and Project CARE (Community Agriculture Response and Empowerment) programmes to task for allowing the rented land to become overgrown with bush.
In fact, the Barbados Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (BADMC) has already started to distribute several eviction notices.
In an interview with Barbados TODAY minister Weir said he was taking a zero tolerance approach when it came to increasing food production in Barbados and though he may be criticised for taking a heavy-handed approach it was absolutely necessary.
He said he was appalled that there was a large amount of unused acreage in these programmes for which the Government would have provided assistance with equipment for drip irrigation, water tanks, and gardening tools to the new farmers. He expressed disappointment that lands were now overgrown in bush and cow-itch.
“I am alarmed at the large number of people who have come forward to say they want agricultural land and then when they get the land [they are not working it]. We have invested money in preparing the land and passing it on to the recipients but then all they do is keep the land and allow it to become overgrown in bush. Then when we are ready to remove the lease agreement and pass it to someone else who has demonstrated clearly that they have the ability, the passion and the determination to produce on the land they have received, the same people who have been non-productive, who have not been showing up and who have not demonstrated that they have any interest at all in producing anything, will come back to make excuses and cite all kind of reasons why they have not been producing, when they know full well they have breached the lease agreement. They know full well that the land was given to them for us [Barbados] to increase production and reach our food security objectives,” he stressed.
“Therefore I am making no apologies for terminating lease agreements where people are holding land and allowing it to go back in bush after the government has invested its money in the preparation of that land including giving farmers water tanks, getting the water authority to deliver water, giving them irrigation systems, which the government paid for.
“So for people to come back and make excuses, going as far as to say that they didn’t know that Government was providing assistance for certain things, is a poor excuse.”
The agriculture minister continued: “As far as I am concerned, if the land is not in production and it has not been in production for an extended period of time, in that you have received notice from the BADMC, and you still do nothing about it and you receive a final notice, that is it. There is no turning back from that.
“The purpose of giving people land is to grow food and that is what we are doing. Those who are growing we are giving them additional land. Those who are not, thank you for your interest but this train has to move on because we have to get growth in this sector.”
Admitting that he was aware that people would complain about his stance, Weir said “That is my final position on that . . . When you [Government] have to make hard decisions in order to achieve your objectives, you will find those who want to hold on and stand in the way. If you are soft . . . you will ultimately end up being stalled or falling short of the objectives.”
Some of those involved in the programmes have also reached out to Barbados TODAY and complained that some farmers had abandoned their land lots and they were concerned about the bush and cow-itch growing on them.
The farmers confirmed that they had received equipment and assistance from Government to start working the land but it had appeared as though others “were waiting for handouts”.
One farmer who did not want to be identified said: “It gives the programme a bad look because these people are not serious and they are making things hard for active people who want to be a part of the programme or get more land.”
Project CARE is a farming initiative for community members to grow their own food on lots. Those interested in livestock or poultry production, were given animals to start their venture on a micro scale.
The FEED programme is designed for those interested in commercially supplying the island with various agricultural products on a larger scale. People interested in agroforestry, livestock and crop production, hydroponic farming and bee-keeping were given all the necessary tools and animals to start their own business and were trained online for a three-month period by agriculture officials.
Extension services are provided to these farmers along with other forms of assistance such as tractor services and provision of seedlings.
People in the FEED programme have been allotted lands at Mount Poyer Plantation in St Lucy, River Plantation in St Philip and at Fairy Valley Christ Church near the BADMC’s headquarters among other areas.
The most widely known Project CARE programme is Project Phoenix on Wakefield Plantation in St John.