Govt to clamp down on subletting State lands in MMA scheme

…as overseas-based holders exploiting local farmers with high rental rates

The Agriculture Ministry will be moving to crack down on the subletting of State lands in the Mahaica Mahaicony Abary/Agricultural Development Authority (MMA/ADA) scheme in Region Five (Mahaica-Berbice) after it was found that overseas-based holders of these lands are exploiting local farmers by charging exorbitant prices thus driving up the cost of production.
During a recent meeting with MMA farmers, Agriculture Minister Zulfikar Mustapha reminded farmers and others individuals in possession of leases that under the laws governing the leasing of State lands, no person leasing land from the Government is allowed to sublet to a third party unless written permission is sought and granted to the lessee for this to take place.
This was after complaints were made that leased land holders who are residing overseas have been subletting lands in the MMA scheme to local farmers and imposing high rental prices – as much as $30,000 per acre. This is way above the low $3500 per acres for both land rental and draining and irrigation cost that the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Administration had set after taking office in 2020.
Speaking with <<<Guyana Times>>> on Wednesday, Minister Mustapha explained that this gross exploitation of local farmers in the MMA, which is primarily used for rice cultivation, is driving up the cost of production.
“When you look at the people living in Guyana and producing, they are paying a tremendous amount of money to produce a bag of paddy. These things are sending up the cost and then you have these farmers now having to sell their paddy to the millers, and not getting [a profitable] amount of money. That is why [the Government] had to make an arrangement with the millers… so that they can pay the farmers a decent price for the rice – at least $4000 per bag of the paddy,” the Minister noted.
According to Mustapha, this arrangement is causing the State to lose almost $300 million in revenue.
Nevertheless, in order to stop the practice of subletting leased lands, the Agriculture Minister has since instructed the MMA/ADA Board to conduct an audit which will include taking stock of those lease holders who have sublet their lands. The Board will be writing those lease holders to inform them that subletting is illegal and give them an opportunity to respond.
Among the issues that the Board will have to examine and come up with recommendations for is ways of stopping the subletting of lands in the MMA scheme.
“We have to write these people and inform them of the clause in the lease that prevents subletting unless permission is granted… Those are the things that we have to do, but we can’t go arbitrarily and take away people land without giving them a notice or a chance to respond,” the Minister explained.
In fact, one of the mechanisms being considered is reassigning leased lands especially those held by persons living overseas who are taking advantage of local farmers.
Further, Mustapha indicated that legal advice would have to be taken from the Attorney General before any such action is taken since there could be legal ramifications.
“It’s not a case we’re going to take back people’s [leased] lands. The case is that we have to look at it and discuss it and get all the clarification and then respond… So, we’ll be looking at that very carefully and hopefully, I can have a recommendation soon and then I will come up with a decision,” he posited.
Moreover, in an effort to reduce the need for local farmers to sublet lands at exorbitant prices, the Agriculture Ministry is working on making another 10,000 acres of land in the MMA scheme available to farmers.
“We’re working on development [of] 10,000 more acres of land, where we will be doing new D&I work and dams’ construction… [For] the second crop of 2023, we can take the amount of acreage to up about 105,000 acres at the end of the year. There are a lot of applications pending there for lands at MMA and these lands will be given to those persons but we will have to ensure strict measures are put in place to prevent subletting,” Mustapha stressed. (G3)