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..lack of legal papers for lands big bugbear
By Svetlana Marshall
For more than 20 years, Sewnarine Rambharratt has been farming in Dalawala – a riverine community along the Demerara River in the vicinity of Linden – but with no legal papers for the land in which he cultivates, access to finance from recognised lending institutions has been almost impossible.
Rambharrat, during a visit to his farm at Dalawala, told the Village Voice Newspaper that prior to 2015, he had approached the Guyana Lands and Surveys Commission (GLSC) to secure legal documents for the 15 acres of land he occupies but was told that the area was designated for logging activities.
“Since I have been here, the PPP/C Government I think they had lockdown this Dalawala area for some kind of logging so they never used to give it out,” the 43-year-old farmer said.
However, Rambharratt said approximately two (2) years ago he was informed that the Lands and Surveys Commission was leasing land in Dalawala for agricultural purposes and without hesitation he immediately submitted his application.
“Since then I paid all the inspection fee, I paid the processing fee and I am still waiting. I don’t know how long it will take to process. It has been about two years since I applied,” he said.
The cash crop farmer said that with no legal papers to show ownership for the land he cultivates, he has been unable to access finance from commercial banks and other lending institutions to purchase equipment and other agricultural materials to aid in his farming activities.
“I think it was about two years ago I was going to take out a brush cutter, they said alright you are a farmer, bring your lease and let us do business. I don’t have a lease, so I had to go about to get the money to purchase it cash,” the farmer explained.
Rambharratt told Village Voice Newspaper that the situation is no different for the more than 20 farmers operating within Dalawala.
“For most of the farmers here, this is the problem they have; they don’t have lease or any sort of document for land in this Dalawala area. If I should be accurate, I think none don’t have a lease,” he posited.
Venting his frustration, Rambharratt asked what is farming without land.
“We don’t look at the government to bring seeds, to bring fertilizers but do the basic for we, get us the land, we get the asset, we can use that, go in the bank, we can even get a loan,” he said.
In 2020, Rambharrat fell ill and was unable to farm for several months, however, he is hopeful that once his lease is approved, he will be able to expand his operations. Prior to falling ill, Rambharrat planted pak choi, bora, cabbage, corilla, banana, plantain and sugar cane among other crops.
No legal papers
Over at another farm in Dalawala, Oswald Johnson spoke of similar challenges. He has been farming in the area for decades but like Rambharratt he has no legal ownership to the land he cultivates.
“You know sometime people would want to come and give you a lil help but they don’t give you help if you don’t have documents, you have to have document,” he told Village Voice Newspaper.
In his quest to regularize his operation, Johnson, just around the same time as Rambharratt, applied to the Lands and Surveys Commission for 10 acres of land in Dalawala. His application is also pending.
A cash crop farmer he plants mostly vegetables such as cabbage, tomatoes, corilla, peppers and also ground provision such as cassava. He is also in the business of harvesting honey.
Apart from the issue of land, both Rambharratt and Johnson underscored the need for a permanent farmers’ market in the central part of Linden on either Mackenzie or Wismar, where farmers could sell their produce on a daily basis.
Johnson told Village Voice Newspaper that while the Regional Democratic Council (RDC), Region 10 hosts a monthly farmers’ market, one day is not enough to sell their produce.
“If we get a place to sell, we could afford to sell the consumers cheap, and the consumers would not have to cry out that they paying dear, dear for things from the hucksters,” Johnson posited.
Rambharratt said that the monthly farmers’ market, places farmers at a disadvantage.
“The disadvantage with that is the one time a month cannot work. We need an area that if we have crops, and we need to sell every day, we go out and put out our produce and sell because pak choi, thick leave callaloo, ochro, bora these things can’t last a month. So if you are going to have a farmers’ market one time a month and you picking ochro and bora every other day, you still have to contend with the hucksters,” he explained.
Rambharratt said too that some farmers in Linden have been operating at a loss for far too long. He explained that vendors in Linden when approached by farmers with produce would often “beat down” the price or engage in price fixing.
“They set the price because they would go to Georgetown and buy, let’s say a cucumber, let’s say they purchase a cucumber for $5 in town, they still have to pay transportation, by the time it reach up to Linden it would cost them $10 dollars, they wouldn’t even give you that $10, they would say they paid $5 for it, and they would try to set the price, 90% of the time that’s what they do,” Rambharrat explained.
He, like Johnson, believes that farmers should have a permanent location in the town to sell their produce at reasonable prices. Rambharrat also made a call for there to be a farm to market road for easier access to the farms located in Dalawala. For now, they do so via the Demerara River.