Fri | Mar 5, 2021

Unknown persons stripping topsoil off SCJ lands in Trelawny

Published:Thursday | January 28, 2021 | 12:21 AMLeon Jackson/Gleaner Writer
A section of the SCJ land with the topsoil removed.
A section of the SCJ land with the topsoil removed.

WESTERN BUREAU:

Four years after the parish was rocked by one of many illegal sand-mining scandals, Trelawny appears poised for yet another major scandal as unidentified persons have been illegally stripping the topsoil off lands own by the Sugar Company of Jamaica (SCJ), which is earmarked for leasing to small farmers.

The illegal act, which is being carried out with the use of heavy-duty equipment, looks set to leave the lands worthless as it relates to future agricultural use. Nigel Myrie, secretary/manager of the All-Island Cane Farmers’ Association (AICFA), who uncovered the illegal activity during a recent tour of former sugar lands in Refuge district, said he was shocked by what he saw.

“I was shocked when on a tour of the area I saw the removal of the topsoil. Truck and caterpillar wheel marks showed evidence of the illegal activity,” Myrie told The Gleaner.

The land in question forms part of the 3,600 acres of land given to AICFA by the Government under a lease arrangement to help create new farming opportunities for small farmers who were affected by the closure of Long Pond Sugar Factory.

“This illegal mining of the topsoil now leaves the land barren. In this area, farmers believe that the lands are suitable for the planting of pumpkin,” explained Myrie.

Myrie, who is seeking to identify the person or Apersons behind the illegal stripping of the topsoil from the land, said the matter has been reported to the police as AICFA intends to take legal action with a view to getting compensation for the damage done.

“I expect the investigation to reveal the person or persons responsible for the illegal activity. Once identified, I expect the law to take its course,” said Myrie.

When The Gleaner contacted the Trelawny police, Deputy Superintendent Christopher Bowe, the officer in charge at Clark’s Town Police Station, which is located in the heart of the former Trelawny sugar belt, said he was not aware of any reports being made to the police.

Farming Land

The section of the land stripped of the topsoil is part of the 2,000 acres of land allocated by the SCJ to be leased for farming purposes. Other sections of the land have been earmarked for housing development.

It should be interesting to note that of the lands leased to date, some 635 acres were leased by Organic Growth Holdings, which is using a part of its property to grow hemp, which is used for the production of CBD Oil.

“We want to encourage young people, male and female, to come and lease land and get involved in farming. They can become entrepreneurs and contribute to Jamaica’s food security,” said Myrie, who noted that the area that has been disturbed was believed to have been ideal for a variety of crops, to include sweet potatoes and sweet pepper.

While the illegal stripping of the topsoil in this part of Trelawny is new, sand mining has been a major problem over the years. Many influential persons, including the developers of major hotels in St Ann, Trelawny, and St James, have been accused of removing the sand and trucking it to their properties to create beaches.

In 2016, the then chairman of the National Environment and Planning Agency, John Junor, called an emergency meeting with representatives of three key government ministries (the ministries of finance, and tourism; as well as science, technology, energy, and mining), and international investor, Karisma, to end an impasse caused by allegations of illegal sand mining by the investor.