Tue | Dec 7, 2021

Cane farmers push for Long Pond land

Published:Friday | May 3, 2019 | 12:00 AMChristopher Serju/Gleaner Writer

Members of the Trelawny Cane Farmers Association are up in arms over Government’s prolonged failure to enunciate a clear plan of action for productive use of land at Long Pond Sugar Factory, whose closure has triggered economic decline in sugar cane-dependent communities, Jamaica’s loudest lobbyist on sugar cane cultivation has said.

Goverment should take the blame for the fallout in several communities, according to Allan Rickards, chairman of the All-Island Jamaica Cane Farmers Association.

“I have a concern. We are coming to it from the point of view of the decay of rural Jamaica, the decay of our farming communities. If I am to be specific in giving an example of Trelawny, where but for the intervention of the Government, disaster would have struck in the areas which have been producing cane for God’s know how long.

“It cannot continue that the Government is going to be subsidising the movement of cane from Trelawny to Appleton and Worthy Park. Apart from the expense of between $40 million and $70 million a year, just for that area, the disincentive and the decimating of morale in terms of the farmers in those areas has been borderline criminal,” Rickards declared during the signing of two memoranda of understanding at the Hope Gardens head office of the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries on Wednesday.

Long Pond has been shuttered since 2016.

Rickards, who is also head of the Trelawny chapter of the AIJCFA, revealed that young people from marginalised farming communities were being directed by their parents to seek employment and other opportunities elsewhere instead of squandering their education and expertise in emerging ghost towns.

RFUGEES COMING IN

“While the communities are depleted, with their youngest and their best (leaving), they are being replaced by refugees from the darkest areas on earth who are the ones doing the killings in the communities. If we don’t reverse this now, we are dead,” he warned, in reference to migratory criminals who have caused a spike in murders and shootings.

A state of emergency was declared in the western arc of St James, Hanover, and Westmoreland on Tuesday.

The Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA) signed a memorandum of understanding with OUTAONE, an entity geared at unlocking economic potential through farming, agro-processing, marketing, and financing.

The AIJCFA chairman signed one memorandum of understanding with OUTAONE while executives of (RADA) signed another to facilitate the interaction of registered farmers with the marketing entity.

pERFECT TIMING

For Rickards, who is also chairman of Farmers First Limited, a limited liability company with shareholding by AIJCFA and a group of private-sector investors, the timing could not have been better.

“When we happened upon OUTAONE, we were grappling with the problem of what to do with our members who no longer had a factory in Trelawny. We knew what we wanted to do, and we had presented it to three ministers, all of whom thought it was a brilliant idea,” he said.

The idea was for the Government to reclaim uncultivated land at Long Pond and sublease it to sugar cane farmers who usually supplied the factory. More than 50 of the farmers applied to Sugar Company Jamaica (SCJ) Holdings, owner of the land, for leases but have got no responses.

“My farmers are now fed up of waiting. We met with J.C. Hutchinson (minister without portfolio) and the leadership of RADA almost a year ago. So my message to my people in Duanvale is going to be delivered, not by me. The minister better come and tell them because my word ain’t good anymore,” a frustrated Rickards said.