Christopher Serju, Gleaner Writer
AFTER LOSING 13 and a half acres of young cane to arsonists whose action was in retaliation for the slaughtering of about five goats by a security guard patrolling his property in St Thomas, member of parliament for North Central Clarendon, Pearnel Charles, is extending the olive branch.
He told The Gleaner: "I am prepared to give them a piece of the property at Pera so they can raise the goats there and allow the cane to, at least, grow to the stage where it can survive, even if they (goats) get into it. In addition, I have given the order that there should be no more killing of the animals."
The first plot of 12 acres was burnt in about August/September after the security guard shot the animals which had strayed on to the property near Golden Grove. Then after about a week, another one and a half acres was torched. While the value of the cane was estimated at about $3 million, the cost of input (fertiliser, water, labour, etc.) would bring the total damage in excess of $5 million. It is an issue which has divided residents of the community, some of whom are angered by their neighbours' refusal to take up Charles' generous offer.
Disappointed and frustrated, the member of parliament says he is willing to use reason to resolve the situation, hence the offer of the land. Telling The Gleaner that he understands the importance of cooperation for mutual survival, Charles has opted not to make it a police matter in the hope that the livestock farmers will come around.
livestock damage on cane
Cane farmers across the island have long suffered from this practice of livestock farmers, some of whom let their animals loose to forage and then return home. Young cane is particularly susceptible and usually dies after being cropped by goats, with pigs wreaking havoc by uprooting the cane. The damage by cows is even worse. However, the mature cane has a better chance of surviving these invasions.
Nelson Walters, chairman of the Golden Grove Small Farmers Association, raised the issue at Thursday's public session of the All-Island Jamaica Cane Farmers Association annual general meeting held at The Jamaica Pegasus hotel, New Kingston. He appealed for help in addressing what he described as a "very, very serious" problem.
Like Charles, Walters, who recently took over the reins of the St Thomas farmers group, is desperate for a solution.
"We have tried many things but nothing works," he told The Gleaner. With the animal pound once operated by the sugar estate no longer in business, the group has tried reasoning with the farmers to no avail. He is in the process of renewing the dialogue and has committed to a greater outreach effort in the hope of making the delinquent livestock farmers understand that keeping the peace is in their mutual interest. Experience has shown that killing the animals is not an option for the cane farmers, Walters explained.
"We don't really want to go shooting animals because whenever that happens, the farmers suffer because person burn cane; the (cane) farmer loses, so we are not going that route!"
His members having reported the matter to the police on a number of occasions, Walters knows that is a dead-end route. This because the police usually direct them to employ the services of a valuator to assess the damage, with the farmer having to detain the animal in the first place.
With most of the animals usually loose and running wild, in addition to being impractical, that is also a potentially dangerous option. So for now the dialogue will continue as cane farmers try again to resolve a potentially explosive situation.