Former WBD cane harvesters call for Govt subsidies

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…as they commence planting cash crops

Almost two years after the closure of the Wales Sugar Estate, cane farmers in the nearby village of Bellvue, West Bank Demerara are pleading for Government to assist them as they venture into diversified crops.

When <<INews>> met with farmers of the Bellvue Cane Farmers Co-Op Society on Saturday, they were sourcing water as the mid-morning sunshine pierced the parched earth and rainfall remains scare owing to the prolonged dry season, which experts suggest could extend into the first months of 2019.

The depleted water source in what was meant to be a punt trench in Bellvue, West Bank Demerara

Some farmers are trying their hand at cash crop cultivation while others are planting banana and plantain suckers and coconut palms. According to overseas-based Balram Balkarran, the farmers are encountering added expenses through land preparation and pump rentals.

“At least the Government should have assisted the Co-op Society, as it costs members about $20,000 to $40,000 per acre to go into other crops. Farmers’ cane used to contribute 50 per cent of the canes. Wales Estate had more co-op societies that supplied cane more than any other estate, so the peasant cane farmers here are suffering more here than (at) any other location,” Balkarran told this online publication.

In December 2016, when Wales officially ended operations, water in the access canals leading to the Kamuni Creek flowed freely to the Wales area through the community of Renistyne, according to Balkarran. However, this all changed when the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) stopped maintaining the many punt trenches in the area. In fact, some sugar workers living in the area were also affected as they supplemented their income via fishing in the trenches.

Workers watering bananas and plantain suckers which are threatened by dry conditions

Farmer Ramchuran Sukhnan, 57, told this newspaper of the many expenses he has been paying since leaving the sugar industry, and he observed that he would be grateful for grants and subsidies as he still has to acquire seedlings. He said he had to pay $50,000 in labour costs to clean one of his plots, $40,000 to prepare the beds, in addition to other costs.

“This is a-we livelihood; we not getting anything…we really need help here, we want water,” Sukhnan pointed out, referencing the dry conditions.

The farmer noted that he supports his 4 grandsons from his earnings.

“Since Wales close (down) things hard, we got children and grandchildren to send to school,” he noted.

<<INews>> was told that the National Drainage & Irrigation Authority (NDIA) was contacted since June 2018 to assist in clearing the bushy trenches, but as mid-October approaches, the farmers are awaiting the entity’s swift action.

Wales was the first of several estates closed under the Coalition Administration in moves to re-organise the industry. Though the closures were rationalised as cost-cutting initiatives, many observers — including the Parliamentary Opposition — had called for social impact studies to be conducted beforehand.

Aside from the plight of the farmers, many sugar workers in the Wales area are facing difficulties in acquiring consistent and lucrative employment. Only a few workers were rehired by the Special Purposes Unit (SPU) which now manages the closed estates. (Shemuel Fanfair)

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