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Crops feel the heat of dry season
The dry season has already begun to have a debilitating impact on hundreds of farmers in Aranguez, known as the country’s food basket. Water courses running alongside productive agricultural lands have been choked with slush and debris, preventing water from the nearby San Juan river from flowing through. With little or no rainfall prior to Christmas, thousands of plants and seedlings which have been yearning for the essential element have been wilting and dying as a result of stress and bone-dry lands, bringing no end of worry to farmers who depend on agriculture for a livelihood.
Yesterday, in a bid to save the plants and crops, president of the Aranguez United Farmers Association, Mukesh Rampersad, along with several farmers rented a backhoe to clear the channels filled with two feet of slush. The farmers had to fork out $1,800 to remove the silt, which they claim should have been done by the San Juan/Laventille Regional Corporation or the Ministry of Works and Infrastructure. Approximately ten truck loads of silt were removed in under five hours. The association represents 227 farmers, 22 of whom are women.
Rampersad knows that the stress on the crops will not produce a high yield, but stated that farmers had invested thousands of dollars which they did not want to lose due to the dry weather and choked water courses. Over 300 acres of freehold agricultural lands have been parched. There are no retention ponds in Aranguez which the farmers can pull water from. The farmers depend solely on water from the river, which flows through the man-made water courses. Pleas for the channels to be cleared, Rampersad said, have fallen on deaf ears.
Rampersad said farmers have been using run-off from nearby houses to wet their crops, while some have been daily filling barrels, buckets and containers, which are transported to the farmers’ fields to wet their crops. “This is by no means an easy task. It is labourious and most frustrating.” Others who can’t do better have been showing up on their farms and praying to God for some showers. Surrounded by several distressed farmers on Wednesday, Rampersad said in the rainy season they encounter widespread flooding, while in the dry season they have to fight tooth and nail to get water. “It’s one extreme to the next. This is too much for us. How could this inspire or encourage the younger generation to get involved in agriculture?”
Rampersad said for years these problems have existed. “Is the same khaki pants with every government. We voted for change but now we getting exchange,” Rampersad said, as the other farmers shook their heads in agreement. Rampersad said he was not disappointed in Food Production Minister Vasant Bharath but the slow pace at which things were being done, which have been hindering their production. “Bharath has the wrong people advising him. That is my first belief,” said Rampersad.
A few weeks ago, Rampersad said a tractor from the San Juan Laventille Regional Corporation was sent to clear the channels, but did not take heed of the farmers who advised that the mouth of the channel be cleared. “They did little work and left. Now we are in this monkey pants.” For years, Rampersad said farmers have been asking for a sluice gate to trap the silt coming from the river, but they are yet to see this fulfilled. Rampersad said while the farmers have been doing their part to put food on the nation’s table, they are being treated with little or no respect.
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