…accuse NDC of neglecting drainage network
By Lakhram Bhagirat
Farmers at Independence Street, La Grange, West Bank Demerara, are accusing the La Grange/Nismes Neighbourhood Democratic Council (NDC) of continually neglecting the main drainage canals, resulting in them being severely flooded whenever it rains.
This time, the farmers said enough is enough since the majority of their farmlands is now under water, leaving them with hundreds of thousands of dollars in losses. They are now calling for urgent intervention from the authorities since they seem to be getting nowhere with the local NDC.
Though the Independence Street, La Grange area is not a traditional cash crop farming area, there are several former sugar workers and cane farmers who have now converted their lands into cash crop farms. The income from their farms serve as the sole means of providing for their families and in the time of the coronavirus pandemic, even the smallest loss can be perceived as the greatest.
The farmers complained that every time it rains, they are flooded and their constant pleas to the NDC seem to be falling on deaf ears. They understand that the NDC has no power to control the natural elements but are arguing that they have been neglecting the aspects that they are responsible for.
The main issue lies within the Palmer Street canal, which serves as the main drainage source for many of the farmers in Section A of Independence Street and in Section B, the issue is a blocked culvert at Factory Dam.
The NDC is vested with the mandate of ensuring that the culvert – which is blocked by rice farmers – is opened whenever there is heavy rainfall in an effort to drain the farmlands faster. The same is with the Palmer Street canal which, the farmers allege, have not been cleaned in a long time.
They also claimed that whenever the canal is cleared, it is done at selected parts rather than holistically.
Farmer Rohan Murray said he has been planting in the area for about eight years now and every time it rains; his crops are under water. He plants boulanger, ochro, thyme and peppers in an effort to take care of his family.
“It all flood out. The trench bad. The trench got to clean that mek we ah get flood out. Me get over a thousand balanjay (plants) now that got big big balanjay and that done (getting killed by the floodwaters). All that go rotten out. Water deh high to the root of the plant. I spent about $200,000 on the balanjay,” he said.
The man said he also has over 2000 ochro plants that are now beginning to bear but now they are completely inundated. He noted that those plants would eventually die after the water recedes.
Another farmer, Mukesh Kumar, said that they have been advocating for the Palmer Street canal to be cleaned and maintained on a regular basis but the authorities seem to be disinterested.
“This problem we does get every rainy season. Look I am planting soursop, fine leaf thyme and so and right now I get over 160 (plantain and banana) suckers at the back there and all under water. When the water go down now all me thyme tree and everything else go start rotting and we got to start over again. It get big grass in the (Palmer Street) trench at the back there and them man nah do nothing about it budday,” Kumar posited.
Bisnauth Prabhudyal has been farming for almost all his life. He currently plants red beans, cassava and other cash crops. The man explained that the water destroys his crops almost every rainy season. He stands to lose over $300,000 in investment now that 70 per cent of his farm is knee-deep in water.
Many of the farmers depend on their produce as the main sources of income but every rainy season, they are suffering hundreds of thousands of dollars in losses with no compensation. Their issues were recently raised at a meeting, on Wednesday, with two Councillors from the NDC who promised to address it.
However, to date, they are yet to hear any word as to the progress.
The Councillors also advised the farmers to visit the Region Three (Essequibo Islands-West Demerara) Regional Democratic Council (RDC) and seek a meeting with the Regional Chairman in an effort to have their issues highlighted.
A team of farmers heeded that advice and travelled to Vreed-en-Hoop where they met with Regional Chairman for Region Three, Ishan Ayube on Thursday. They reported that Ayube met with them shortly after 09:30h while he was preparing to attend a meeting. He promised to address their concerns at the level of the Regional Democratic Council.
“We talk to the Regional Chairman and he say them get a Hymac (excavator) and it deh at the road top and them go send the Hymac just to clear the sideline. They send it and we now pass and we see the Hymac by Isaac (former NDC Chair) cleaning the middle walk,” farmer Totaram Mangru explained.
The middle walk, according to the farmers, does not need to be cleaned since it is always cleared. Rather it is the Palmer Street canal that requires the cleaning.
Mangru and his son farm cash crops on a medium scale and they would have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars preparing their lands and planting. Almost 90 per cent of their combined farms are under water and now they stand to lose their investment in addition to anticipated profits. Farming is their main source of income.
For over 20 years, Sundar (only name given) has been planting cash crops and selling at the market. He, like many of his counterparts, is constantly inundated and has no one to assist him.
Additionally, Deonarine Singh said the recent meeting was held at his residence but they have been getting nowhere with the authorities.
“Them say that them guh go in to talk to the people them and unto now nobody nah come and say nothing. We nah get no feedback yet. Presently some ah the farmer them what plant rice they would block the culvert and wouldn’t open um when is rainy season. About 2-3 years gone back they block it and we had to go open it we self,” he said.
“We made representation”
However, NDC Chair Anjanie Narine vehemently denied the NDC’s role in neglecting the drainage systems in the area. She related that it is unfair for the farmers to claim that no representation is being made on their behalf.
In fact, she related that she would have written to both the Regional Chairman and Ministry of Agriculture to have machinery released to clear the drains.
“To my surprise, some of these farmers prefer to bypass the NDC because they have never come to the NDC, they have never made a report at the NDC. However, during our yearly survey of drainage that needs to be cleared two months ago and at that time we did not had the new Chairman sworn in it was the former Chairman (Julius Faerber) final month that I wrote to the Region asking for them to assist us with both a long broom and a mini excavator for internal and major drainage,” she explained.
She added that the NDC does not have the resources to execute the projects and would have to rely on the Agriculture Ministry, RDC and the National Drainage and Irrigation Authority for assistance.
She said that the delay in getting the excavator into the NDC was based on the fact that it was engaged in Canal Number Two and was just released to them about a week ago.
“We are supposed to start from Palmer Street by clearing the drainage at the back there coming out and there were some mix up whereby the ranger took it upon himself to give directives to the operator and we cleared it up. The mini excavator is working in Palmer Street. The machine is back in there cleaning,” Narine said.
When asked to provide a date of when last the main Palmer Street canal was cleared, the NDC Chair could not have done so, rather she indicated that she believes it was last done at the beginning of the year – which the farmers are disputing.