Fair to farmers

Fair to farmers

Vaz, Shoucair reject claims of cruel displacement of persons farming on Bernard Lodge lands

BY ARTHUR HALL
Editor-at-Large
halla@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, September 08, 2019

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Allegations that persons who have been farming for years on the St Catherine-based Bernard Lodge Estate are being unfairly displaced, have been rejected by the Government's point man on the proposed development, Daryl Vaz; as well as Joseph Shoucair, who has day-to-day responsibility for the project.

According to Shoucair, provisions have been made for the relocation and where necessary, compensation to the 104 people who have formal leases for portions of the land, plus the 55 persons who have settled on the property informally.

“A lot of these farmers have crops in the ground and structures on the ground, so we engaged the services of RADA [Rural Agricultural Development Athority] to visit each holding. We have also brought in other valuators to value the buildings.We have said to farmers, we will compensate you for what you have lost and we will give you a relocation area with land comparable to the one you now occupy.

“After Prime Minister Andrew Holness reviewed the master plan he instructed that an additional 1,300 acres with irrigation to be dedicated to an agricultural subdivision. We have identified relocation sites for all the lessees and all the informal farmers,” said Shoucair, who is also managing director of SCJ Holdings, which owns the land.

This would result in 2,500 acres of the 20,000-acre property being used for residential and commercial purposes, with 3,500 acres being used for agricultural entities under the development and a further 14,000 acres still available for agriculture.

Shoucair said that so far he has meet with about 80 of the farmers and they have reacted positively to the plan which would see the 1,300 acre subdivision being a high-quality one, unlike anything that has been done before.

“I want to improve on the shortcomings that we have observed in the agro-parks. It is going to cost about $300 million to just fix up the agricultural subdivision but the long and short of it is that everybody will be relocated. Nobody will be thrown off, even though I would say 85 to 90 per cent of the lessees are in arrears under their lease agreements,” declared Shoucair.

He added that persons will be allowed to stay on their properties for as long as it takes to reap the crops in the ground.

Shoucair also scoffed at claims by one of the persons who leased a portion of the land, Hugh Johnson, that the small farmers are being cruelly treated.

In a recent media interview Johnson, who said he represents the farmers, charged that persons were being removed from land they have farmed for years in a manner that have left them hurting.

But SCJ documents, seen by the Jamaica Observer show that Johnson owes a significant sum under his lease and has allegedly breached his lease.

“He has two persons who he has sub-let the land to without the permission of the SCJ, which is a breach of his lease and furthermore, we are in touch with those two persons and we are making provisions to relocate them to allow them to continue their farming,” Shoucair told the Sunday Observer.

In the meantime Vaz, the minister without portfolio in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation with responsibility for land, environment, climate change and investments, has also rubbished Johnson's allegation.

“Despite the mischief and misinformation being circulated for political and other agendas, I wish as minister, to assure the citizens and farmers that this process will be fair and equitable and the development of Bernard Lodge will be to the benefit of all stakeholders.

“This will happen through improved infrastructure and social services to existing and new communities, while creating jobs and business opportunities for all strata of society. That's my commitment and my word is my bond,” declared Vaz.

He said the small farmers who are to be relocated will be given lands with the right soil type and irrigation to ensure that they can continue their operations.

“I have made it my point of duty to consult critical stakeholders and take on board suggestions and recommendations. This will continue and intensify as the enterprise team finalises critical aspects of the master plan after recently presenting to the Cabinet, which the prime minister has requested as part of his review,” declared Vaz.

Last week the prime minister announced that in light of public concerns clarification on the status of the Bernard Lodge project will be provided soon.

Holness said the project, which aims to provide 1,600 housing solutions, has been halted to address stakeholder concerns regarding, among other things, issues with the perceived displacement of agricultural activities.

According to Holness, the Government “can't just make decisions by virtue of who has the loudest and most influential voice,” as he underscored that he has ordered a full review of the project.

The Bernard Lodge development will be located on the northern boundary of the Highway 2000 road reservation and will extend from the Lime Tree Grove community in the east, and approximately four kilometres to the Windsor Road community in the west.


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