Erica Virtue, Senior Gleaner Writer
International bauxite companies operating in Jamaica are being accused by farmers of pocketing millions of dollars that should be paid to them for property purchased for mining purposes.
The payment to persons for crops on lands purchased by the bauxite companies has long been a source of discontent for many persons who claim they are paid "pittance".
But at least one of the companies operating locally has rejected this claim.
"I reject the notion that the industry has any vested interest in exploiting farmers," said Leo Lambert, corporate services manager at Jamalco.
"There is an agreed compensation structure. If there is general recognition that changing circumstances warrant a review of rates there is an established framework to do so," added Lambert.
Jamaica Bauxite Institute representative, Diane Gordon, has agreed that the payment to farmers is done using an outdated crop compensation guide provided by the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA).
"What they (the companies) do now is consult directly with the agriculture specialist from RADA to get an idea, sometimes using the farm gate prices, with certain modifications, to arrive at a correct value.
"They not only look at the current value but probably after reaping," Gordon told The Sunday Gleaner.
According to Gordon, the compensation to the farmers is determined by RADA when all circumstances are considered including the size and maturity of trees.
"We would work with them (RADA) but we do not set any price and, of course, each crop has a different value. But as I said before the compensation guide is outdated," explained Gordon.
She noted that farmers who believe that the compensation from the bauxite company is inadequate can get an independent valuation.
However, one Manchester farmer told The Sunday Gleaner that he was not aware he had that option.
According to the farmer, Neville Mullings, his property was mined by a company working for Alumina Partners.
"Yes. Yes. I am a farmer, so crops were here. A man representing the mining company valued the crops on the property and I remember getting $300 for a hill of yam.
"But one hill of yam can give you 40 to 50 pounds. And at $30 per pound, you can make much more than what you get paid for by the bauxite company," said Mullings.
According to Mullings, crops are valued per square metres and trees are valued individually.
"Up to a few years ago you could get $7,000 for a bearing citrus (orange) tree. Orange and grapefruits do well in this region but the orange value more.
"Breadfruit and ackee trees also have a different payment, and pimento would give the highest price," said Mullings, who added that he could not remember how much he was paid for many of the trees on his farm.
"If you have a small plot with agricultural produce you may get a few hundred thousand dollars one time. But you could also plant at different locations on your property and you could make that annually if they didn't find bauxite. Instead, you only get that money one time."
Mullings also alleged that the bauxite companies are not planting trees on the reclaimed lands, making them susceptible to flooding and long periods of drought.
The concerns of the farmers have been noted by Mining Minister Phillip Paulwell, who told a recent Gleaner Editors' Forum that the time may be right for a review of the legislation governing the operation of bauxite companies.
"There are lots of issues involved, but maybe, just maybe, the time has come for a review of what is paid, and also the legislation," said Paulwell.
He is being supported by political colleague and Member of Parliament for South East St Elizabeth, Richard Parchment.
According to Parchment, despite the high electricity cost and other problems facing the bauxite companies, they can pay the farmers more.
"The small payment they receive is just not cutting it at this time. The companies have gotten away with paying hundreds of dollars when they should have paid hundreds of thousands," said Parchment.
"The new house (given to the farmers by the bauxite companies) is good, but the land quality the farmers get is poor," said Parchment, whose constituency covers a large bauxite mining area.
Responding to those claims, Lambert said Jamalco is always willing to work with genuine farmers but there were extenuating circumstances which should be highlighted.
"Our company is compliant with regulatory requirements," said Lambert.
Jamaica's Mining Act, which dates back to 1947, makes it clear that the occupier of land earmarked for mining "is eligible for reasonable compensation for live and dead stock, crops, trees and buildings or works".
The act also notes that "if reasonable compensation cannot be agreed on, a magistrate may be asked to intervene".