SCJH serves notice on farmers illegally occupying Roaring River property

Observer writer

Thursday, May 28, 2020

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ROARING RIVER, Westmoreland -Managing director of the Sugar Company of Jamaica Holdings Limited (SCJH) Joseph Shoucair has warned people who have been cultivation crops on roughly 500 acres of arable cane lands under it's control in Roaring River to vacate the property and enter into lease agreements with the company.

“This new wave of squatting seems to be organised and has shown a massive increase than what we are used to, especially in Westmoreland,” Shoucair told the Jamaica Observer West recently.

According to Shoucair, about 50 farmers are currently occupying the property in Roaring River, which was originally leased to the Pan Caribbean Sugar Company Limited for sugar cane cultivation, but was later returned to the SCJH.

Recently, a team from the SCJH, which is responsible for the assets of all government-controlled sugar companies, including lands, visited the farmers and advised them of the company's decision.

“We advised them that they should create an organisation and apply to lease the lands. But, if they are still occupying the land before this lease, their application will be denied. But if they come off the land and apply for a lease they will get the lease,” Shoucair argued.

He added that the entire process will take about six weeks.

“We want to work with them [farmers]. We even went as far as explaining to them that we will lease them the land at the minimum cost…and they will be allowed to occupy the land and continue their farming. But we cannot permit illegal use,” he stressed.

Under the SCJH's proposal, each farmer will be leased a minimum of two acres of land at a cost of roughly $30,000 per annum, and farmers would only be allowed to cultivate cash crops. Additionally, no erection of permanent structures is allowed.

Roaring River resident, Lee Patterson, is among the farmers who have been occupying sections of the property illegally.

Since March, she has been cultivating cash crops and rearing cattle, using funds, she said, she borrowed from her son.

Now, Patterson is worried that she might be unable to repay the loan.

“ …I went and took two squares. I cleared the bush, ploughed the land, bought seeds, and planted them. Now, I cannot go back to the land…so mi a guh lose mi money,” she wailed.

Patterson stated that she was told that applying for the land does not guarantee that they will be given it.

“Mi hear seh the reason they want us off [the land] is because one big man want the land and him a guh get it,” said the 52-year-old farmer.

Richard Brown, another Roaring River resident, was about to commence the cultivation of cash crops such as peas, corn, potatoes, and pumpkin, when he heard of the SCJH's stance.

“I am lucky that the only thing I did was clear the bush. I haven't really spent any money. I was about to plough the land when they held the meeting,” he told the Observer West.

He said he decided to farm on the property in an effort to become self-sufficient.

“When I see people start taking land, I said this could be an opportunity, so I took an acre and a half and started doing something,” said Brown, adding that “we have perfect weather and little farming in the area”.

He too, like many other farmers, said that they would not be able to afford the lease.

Brown added that “forming the organisation to get the lease is one of the main challenges as some persons are not in agreement.”

But, Shoucair is insisting that the wholesale squatting will not be permitted, and is assuring the farmers that the SCJH is willing to embrace them, if they apply for their lease and abide by the agreement.

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