SOME 100 farmers from central Trinidad are asking the State to reconsider its decision to allocate lands under the new Youth Agricultural Homestead Programme (YAHP).
They are also questioning the availability of land for the programme.
The request was made to Youth Development and National Service Minister Foster Cummings in a letter from Dhanraj Balkaran, president of the Central Farmers’ Association.
Balkaran also wants more information on the plan for the YAHP programme announced recently by the minister. A freedom of information request has been sent for the supply of documents.
Balkaran’s attorney Richard Jaggasar wrote to the minister earlier this week, saying his client, a farmer for over 40 years and a former Caroni (1975) Ltd worker, was “extremely concerned” by the YAHP announcement.
On May 12, Cummings launched the two-year YAHP programme to train young people, 18-35, in agriculture. The first 200 of 1,600 applicants are expected to benefit from a starter home on two acres of fertile land and the State is expected to cover the $8,000-per-semester tuition for students.
Jaggasar said Balkaran represented over 100 farmers, mostly former Caroni (1975) Ltd employees, who, he said, have been “pleading for decades for proper title documents to lands vested to them.
“While they have been ignored, an announcement has been made that out of nowhere 200 vacant two-acre parcels have presented themselves.”
The letter said the minister identified the Land Settlement Agency as the body to facilitate the development and infrastructure of the lands, but alleged farmers’ lands were recently bulldozed and their crops destroyed.
“My client is concerned that these youths/persons selected were not selected fairly/justly. He is unaware of any farmer in central who was called to this official event.
“In these circumstances, his members have to wonder if the process was rigged against them.”
He also said the State should “conclude” that the rights of former Caroni workers and existing farmers “far outweigh, both in number and experience, the 200 new applicants.”
“Logically, if the lands are leased to the existing farmers, their experience will save the state the aforementioned cost to train new farmers. In addition to saving money the act of granting lands to the existing farming population is one that will be seen as a long outstanding promise completed.”