Wales backlands’ residents appeal for urgent assistance to save livelihood, road
…Govt to balance investment already made by developer vs occupancy needs of local farmers
…Agri Minister commits to address issues
By Lakhram Bhagirat
The residents of Catherina Sophia – La Harmony area, Wales Backlands, are seeking the urgent intervention of the Agriculture and Public Works Ministries to come to their rescue and provide them with better infrastructure to sustain their livelihoods.
The Region Three (Essequibo Islands-West Demerara) community has just about 170 residents who were mostly employed with the Wales Estate but lost their jobs when the previous Administration (APNU/AFC) closed it down. They used the monies from their severance packages to invest in farming and livestock rearing.
They began using the abandoned cane fields to rear their livestock and together have accumulated over 500 heads of cattle.
However, a developer approached the villagers and informed them that he was leased some 2000 acres of land to plant coconuts under the APNU/AFC Administration. The man then occupied the plot where the residents were using to raise their livestock so they decided to move to another plot.
About a month ago, the man began moving the residents’ cattle from the other plot, informing them that he received the go-ahead from the authorities to develop another block with coconut.
“He commenced his operation and it had residents that had cattle in the area and he kept moving the cattle down to the back. However, after he finished that plot, he continued on to another area and that area have about 300 heads of cattle and it have no other place for the cattle to be shifted,” resident Sasenarine Khanai told Guyana Times.
During a visit to the remote community, Guyana Times was informed that the residents have reached out to several Government agencies including the National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL), Guyana Livestock Development Authority (GLDA), Ministry of Agriculture and other agencies requesting urgent assistance to save their cattle and preserve their livelihoods.
“The only response we get was from NICIL which stated that they sent a document saying they are in no status at the moment to allocate lands in the area. A group of 30 persons made a visit to the Ministry of Agriculture to meet the Minister, however, that was not successful.”
The man related that they met with a member of staff at the Ministry (name given) and he advised them to erect a fence to prevent the cattle from going into the area that the “developer” had already cultivated. “So, this meeting was done about three weeks ago at Ministry of Agriculture on Regent Street. After that, we came back and erected the fence and everything was normal.
“However, the guy came in about a week ago and said he got a go-ahead from the Minister Secretary to commence the operations. He removed the fence and took another plot of land which is presently affecting the residents here with the amount of cattle they have,” Khanai related.
The man has been living in the area for over 10 years now and also rears cattle. Currently, he has over 20 heads of cattle which is also growing. He is calling for the Agriculture Minister to make an urgent intervention so that they can find somewhere to place their livestock.
“We are hoping to get the authorities – the Minister of Agriculture to make an intervention into this matter. We are hoping to get the President, Dr Mohamed Irfaan Ali, to make an intervention or even send a representative here to meet with the residents and hear their concerns. This is our only form of livelihood here,” the worried man related.
Roy Narine has been living in Catherina Sophia for 60 years now and is also a former worker of the Wales Estate. He was employed there for 40 years until his services were terminated with the Estate’s closure. He, like many of his fellow villagers, took his severance payoff and decided to invest in some cattle.
He now has over 70 heads of cattle.
“Me say if we even get the one section for the cow we gon feel alright. The man finish plant that one side, the man move the fence and start plant on the back and when they reach out here the cow dem got to be on the road or something. We will have to sell out if we nah get place to put them because we can’t get the cow on the road,” the 60-year-old man said.
The residents are contending that if they can get a designated plot to rear their cattle then they would be able to sustain themselves in a community that provides no other opportunity for income generation.
The community is accessible by two means – one is a boat from the East Bank of Demerara over the Demerara River and into the community and the other is by the dirt road. However, with Guyana in its official rainy season and the coconut developer using the road to move heavy machinery, the road is now impassible.
The only access for villagers is by boat to Land of Caanan, EBD, and then to the various places for business. This mode of transportation is extremely costly to villagers who already have limited access to resources.
“We have some serious damages to the road. This is the only access for the villagers in area by road if not it would be accessing boat to cross the river which would be a more costlier mode of transportation,” Khanai related.
Last year during the month of October, Minister within the Public Works Ministry, Deodat Indar along with the Regional Vice Chair Omesh Satyanand visited the community and was told about the state of the road.
“Since me father small he say this road a do. This area is Region Three and me a watch news me a see all over in Region Three them a do wuk with road but in this area them nah do nothing. Nothing nah do a dem area this,” Narine chimed in.
Reasha Teyjnarie is one of the teachers at the primary school in the area. For her, the biggest concern is the deplorable state of the road. She moved to the area just about five years ago after she got married.
“My main concern is the road. It is very difficult to walk the road when going to school. I am a teacher at the La Harmony Primary School and going down way back the road is way worse than here. It is taken over with tall grass and bamboos hanging over and it is very dangerous for the children walking to school,” the teacher said.
Clinton Day, another resident, said that he has been living there for over 40 years and has three teenage children, all in school. The road, for him, is the most pressing issue because it hinders cost-effective transportation.
Day owns his own boat so for him, the cost of going across the river is one that he does not immediately have to secure.
We are working on it
Agriculture Minister Mustapha said he has not been entirely apprised of the issue facing the residents but did commit to meeting with them. He reminded that the land the developer is occupying was given out by NICIL during the David Granger Government and that it is currently being reviewed.
“I know NICIL is reviewing that – we had a joint meeting – myself the AG and we spoke to the people them who received lands and we are reviewing the leases of the lands. I will be meeting with them (the farmers) shortly and I don’t have full knowledge on the current issues but if their livelihood is threatened then I would see how we can help through the various agency especially the Livestock Authority to work along with them to see how we can help the farmers continue their livelihoods,” Mustapha related.
When contacted, Junior Public Works Minister Indar told <<<Guyana Times>>> that he would have indeed visited the community late last year and listened to the concerns of the residents.
“I would have seen how the road is. It is slush and we had to use a tractor to get in there to share out some ration to the residents. I did hear what the residents want and they talked to me about doing the road and bringing electricity. I told them that I would look into it and we are doing that. My self and Minister Mustapha are working on it to get them some relief,” Indar related.
He further explained that in order to fix the road in the community, the Ministry needs to have an excavator remove the slush and reshape the road since it has been destroyed by the tractors going through there. Indar added that the trees that overhang the roadway would have to be removed since they accumulate and dispose of water, further worsening the condition.
“We are looking at the cost to do the project. The stretch of road is just over three miles so we have to look at that and then make a decision on the way forward,” he informed.