The Tobago House of Assembly (THA) is willing to give bona fide farmers land leases for agricultural purposes. But Chief Secretary Orville London said applicants will first have to prove that they have the capability, capacity and intent to do so.
Agriculture and the use of State land in Tobago was one of the main issues discussed by constituents of Providence/Mason Hall/Moriah, as the THA’s Face to Face 2016 community meetings series began last Tuesday (16th February 2016) night.
An overflowing Moriah Community Centre heard the concerns of constituents relating to inadequate access roads to their agricultural plots, drainage and the need for the Assembly to redistribute unutilised agricultural land to those willing to plant crops,.
In response to the land issue, London, assured that the Assembly is not averse to giving agricultural land to “serious people”.
The Chief Secretary said he has been in charge of State lands for the last ten years, and has had many “bad experiences”. These included persons selling their leases to other farmers, and also constructing houses on land given for agricultural purposes. Only the Division of Settlements and Labour, he said, give out land earmarked for housing.
“We are willing to give land to serious people,” London said. “Anybody who comes for land must show that you are serious. We do not give out State land for housing.”
London said the Assembly is developing an agricultural site on the THA-acquired Friendship Estate in western Tobago, where orchards will be established for distribution to those interested in agriculture.
He added: “Our problem is how to get the people going back to the land.”
The Chief Secretary assured that the Assembly will take a look at the Indian Walk Estate, located between Mason Hall and Moriah, where residents claimed that farmers were provided with ten acres each for agricultural purposes but some were not doing so.
Residents also made a number of useful suggestions on developing the area, which London said will be looked at. This includes a possible blue dasheen market for the Caribbean diaspora in New York, where there is a demand for the crop.
The Chief Secretary also used the opportunity to give some advice to residents. He said they must make full use of facilities provided, and also partner with the THA through community groups to ensure the best interest of the community can be represented.
He said: “We have to ensure that you the people are a part of the governance process. We have to understand that we are in challenging times. In 2016 the walk is going to be different and the worst thing that could happen is if we don’t hold hands together.”
Area representative Sheldon Cunningham gave an update on all the work that has been done and ongoing projects in the area, while residents also got feedback from the several Assemblymen present on issues affecting their community, such as roads, the Moriah Community Centre and the Moriah Health Facility. The meeting was also attended by Tobago East MP Ayanna Webster-Roy.
Residents were also given a brief by County Medical Officer of Health Dr. Vishwanath Partapsingh on the Zika and H1N1 viruses, who answered all their health questions.
The series consists of 13 community meetings in the 12 electoral districts of Tobago within the next six months. The next meeting is scheduled for Tuesday (February 23) at the Mt. St. George Community Centre.