Wales backlands’ residents appeal for urgent assistance to save livelihood

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By Lakhram Bhagirat

The residents of Catherina Sophia – La Harmony area, Wales Backlands, are seeking the urgent intervention of the Agriculture and Public Works Ministries to come to their rescue and provide them with better infrastructure to sustain their livelihoods.

The Region Three (Essequibo Islands-West Demerara) community has just about 170 residents who were mostly employed with the Wales Estate but lost their jobs when the previous Administration (APNU/AFC) closed it down. They used the monies from their severance packages to invest in farming and livestock rearing.

They began using the abandoned cane fields to rear their livestock and together have accumulated over 500 heads of cattle.

However, a developer approached the villagers and informed them that he was leased some 2000 acres of land to plant coconuts under the APNU/AFC Administration. The man then occupied the plot where the residents were using to raise their livestock so they decided to move to another plot.

About a month ago, the man began moving the residents’ cattle from the other plot, informing them that he received the go-ahead from the authorities to develop another block with coconut.

A section of the road

“He commenced his operation and it had residents that had cattle in the area and he kept moving the cattle down to the back. However, after he finished that plot, he continued on to another area and that area have about 300 heads of cattle and it have no other place for the cattle to be shifted,” resident Sasenarine Khanai told Inews.

During a visit to the remote community, Inews was informed that the residents have reached out to several Government agencies including the National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL), Guyana Livestock Development Authority (GLDA), Ministry of Agriculture and other agencies requesting urgent assistance to save their cattle and preserve their livelihoods.

“The only response we get was from NICIL which stated that they sent a document saying they are in no status at the moment to allocate lands in the area. A group of 30 persons made a visit to the Ministry of Agriculture to meet the Minister, however, that was not successful.”

The man related that they met with a member of staff at the Ministry (name given) and he advised them to erect a fence to prevent the cattle from going into the area that the “developer” had already cultivated. “So, this meeting was done about three weeks ago at Ministry of Agriculture on Regent Street. After that, we came back and erected the fence and everything was normal.

The man has been living in the area for over 10 years now and also rears cattle. Currently, he has over 20 heads of cattle which is also growing. He is calling for the Agriculture Minister to make an urgent intervention so that they can find somewhere to place their livestock.

Roy Narine has been living in Catherina Sophia for 60 years now and is also a former worker of the Wales Estate. He was employed there for 40 years until his services were terminated with the Estate’s closure. He, like many of his fellow villagers, took his severance pay off and decided to invest in some cattle. He now has over 70 heads of cattle.

The residents are contending that if they can get a designated plot to rear their cattle then they would be able to sustain themselves in a community that provides no other opportunity for income generation.

When contacted Agriculture Minister Mustapha said he has not been entirely apprised of the issue facing the residents but did commit to meeting with them. He reminded that the land the developer is occupying was given out by NICIL during the David Granger Government and that it is currently being reviewed.