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Re-open Marper unit say Plum Mitan farmers
The closure of a propagating unit at Marper Farms in Plum Mitan is being blamed for a shortfall of nursery plants on the market, which has been contributing to rising food inflation. Scores of cocoa, citrus and fruit farmers who live in the agricultural community complain that finding young plants at the St Augustine Nurseries, La Reunion Propagation Station in Centeno and at Farm Road in St Joseph was like looking for a needle in a haystack.
Le Reunion sells only cocoa, coffee and breadfruit plants. The unavailability of the plants caused a small group of Plum Mitan farmers to voice their displeasure on Wednesday, as they made an appeal to Food Production Minister Devant Maharaj to re-open the unit, which they insist can generate jobs in their village. Cultivated with citrus, avocado, mango and cocoa trees, the farm spans 90 acres. Secretary of the Plum Mitan Farmers’ Association Kandice Toussaint explained that the door of the unit was closed several years ago.
“We heard the Government shut it down because it was not generating money. I think it was a bad decision in the first place. Now we are caught between the devil and the deep blue sea in sourcing plants.” Toussaint said the propagating beds at Marper Farm are deteriorating but the Government could restore and use them. Toussaint said farmers whose farms were wiped out by diseases, pests and floods have been unable to replant their fields.
“Obviously, the few farmers who have trees available will charge a pound and a crown when they go to the market to sell their produce. We have seen in the last few months how the prices of fruits have skyrocketed. Large avocadoes are selling in some places $10 and $15 for one. Some people can’t even afford to buy it.” The association has a membership of 108 farmers. Toussaint said farmers as far as Biche, Manzanilla and Sangre Chiquito who depended heavily on the unit now have to travel to Centeno, St Augustine and St Joseph to order different types of plants, which they do not get in a timely fashion. Toussaint said this was impeding food production and depriving them of a livelihood.
“Many farmers have moved on to new pursuits because we have a host of problems, including lack of land tenure.” Farmer Kumar Maharaj said he ordered avocado, citrus and mango plants at the St Joseph farm a year ago. “I still waiting on them,” said Maharaj. Maharaj said his 25-acre farm was virtually empty and he had lost his taste for planting. Purchasing plants at private nurseries, Maharaj said, was way too expensive.
Longstanding farmer Mervyn Toussaint said farmers would pay between $5 to $10 for an orange or avocado plant at the government farms. At private nurseries, Toussaint said, it costs as much as $60 for a plant. Treasurer of the association, Ramdath David said apart from farmers not being able to obtain plants, the agricultural access roads were in a deplorable condition, and even roads that were recently paved were collapsing due to shoddy workmanship.
Dane Calliste said the farmers were being treated with scant courtesy. “The Government not doing anything for us. It have plenty unemployed youth up here who willing to work if they open the propagation unit. They not doing nothing. We ready to protest. It go be fire and brimstone,” he warned.
Minister of State in the Ministry of Food Production Jairam Seemungal said the ministry will have to determine whether or not it would be economically viable to propagate plants at Marper Farms since both St Augustine and La Reunion are producing sufficient plants. Told of the farmers’ complaints, Seemungal said the ordering procedure used by the farmers needs to be looked at. “We need to reorganise the way we do business so we can accommodate people.”
Seemungal said some farmers who ordered plants had the habit of not collecting them. “One farmer ordered a million cocoa plants and when we checked he was only able to plant 1,500 plants. That is the problem we have been facing for years.” Seemungal said the St Augustine Farm had over 100,000 plants available and by 2013 this figure will increase to 200,000, while La Reunion had adequate cocoa plants, including 200,000 breadfruit plants which the farmers can obtain. Recently the ministry brought in 128 varieties of mango plants from Florida, which they will propagate.
Having visited Marper Farms last week, which he described as a gene bank for cocoa plants, Seemungal said technocrats from the ministry suggested it should be transformed into an agriculture tourism site. |”We are having discussions with the ministry of tourism. It is not a policy just yet.”
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