Farmers at the Government’s land lease projects in the island’s northern and southern extremes are being told they should have no fear of being evicted from their farm plots even as their income dries up in the ongoing drought, Minister of Agriculture Indar Weir has told Barbados TODAY.
He has ordered the Barbados Agricultural Development & Marketing Corporation (BADMC) to extend payment options to farmers in arrears, he said.
Farmers at both the Spring Hall and River Plantation – in the nation’s driest regions of St Lucy and St Philip – complained of being threatened with eviction by the BADMC. Several of them said they were unable to pay their bills, particularly for water use, owing to low crop production caused by the drought’s long-term water shortages.
He said: “There is an arrangement that the farmers can use at the BADMC where they can pay down on whatever arrears that they have. Let me state for the record that Government is not here to put people out of business because as we have already said, we are going the route of empowerment and enfranchisement.
“So, any farmer that feels threatened can come to us and let us have a conversation so that we can rectify any challenges.”
The eviction threat was described as “unconscionable” by Chief Executive Officer of the Barbados Agricultural Society James Paul.
Paul said then: “I believe that we need to sit down with people and discuss the issues as to why a bill goes up. I am sure that if the farmers have the money to pay the bills, they would pay them.”
But Weir stressed in his interview with Barbados TODAY that it was not enough for farmers to merely say that they are unable to pay, but instead they should have brought in their financial documents to make their case to the BADMC.
Referring to his experience as an entrepreneur, Weir said: “I don’t know about not having the capacity to pay because nobody has presented me with any financials.
“My experience has always been, especially given my experience in business, a person is only informed when they have the true financials of the actual situation. Anything other than that is simply too generic.”
Weir touted the farm ministry’s push towards his plans for more technologically advanced agriculture but suggested traditional farms are still a priority.
He said: “One of the accusations that was made is that the new farming programme that I created and conceptualized, is being put above them.
“That is not the case at all and I want the public to know that the new arrangement that we have in farming, regarding the use of technology that is less water-intensive, is not going to push out anyone.”
But the Minister declared that while Government is willing to work with the farmers in bringing down their debt to the BADMC, it is important that they make efforts to pay what they owe towards the project’s continuity.
He said: “I want to tell the farmers that there is no reason to feel threatened but at the same time they have to pay for the water.
“We are not going to mince our words where that is concerned because if they don’t pay for the water supply, then the BADMC can’t supply it.”
Regarding the current drought conditions, which has severely impacted water supplies to farms, Weir explained that Government wants to introduce several short-term plans, such as trapping more runoff water.
“We would look at damming so that we could look at more water harvesting because there is a lot of water that passes through our gullies that is not being captured, which could go towards farming. The long-term plan is to work with the Barbados Water Authority so that when we set up a [tertiary]sewage treatment plant on the south coast, millions of gallons of water will be available for farming,” he said.
Farmers at the St Lucy project as well as farmers at the River Plantation Land Lease Project in St Philip, expressed fear that low water levels that feed the irrigation systems, are threatening their yield and would inevitably result in the scarcity of certain crops on the market. Farmers at Spring Hall told Barbados TODAY that they were being rationed three hours of water per day and last week the water was shut off for four days. Meanwhile, farmers in St Philip charged that the BADMC pump has not operated in weeks due to the extremely low water levels at the catchment. As a result, many were incurring exorbitant daily cost to bring water to their fields.