Roaring River farmers to sign lease agreements with SCJH

Western News

Roaring River farmers to sign lease agreements with SCJH

Thursday, June 25, 2020

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ROARING RIVER, Westmoreland - Just under 190 farmers illegally occupying Sugar Company of Jamaica Holdings (SCJH) lands here are to sign lease agreements with the company by the end of the month, which will allow them to continue farming on roughly 300 acres of the property.

“The lease agreement will see farmers paying perhaps one-half of the $30,000 that was initially quoted,” Joseph Shoucair, the SCJH managing director, told the Jamaica Observer West last week, following recent discussions with the farmers.

In May, Shoucair warned the people cultivating crops on the roughly 500 acres of lands that they should vacate the property, form an organisation and enter in lease arrangements with the SCJH, or face eviction.

At that time, he said that 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, adding that about 50 farmers are currently occupying the property— that was originally leased to the Pan-Caribbean Sugar Company Limited for sugar cane cultivation, but was later returned to the SCJH.

Pan-Caribbean had complained that the grazing of the land by stray animals had been hindering the growth of their cane, thus making the lands more of a liability.

Shoucair argued last week that the intention of SCJH and the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries is to provide farmers with formal leases to the property so that lands can be put to productive use which will ultimately contribute towards Jamaica's food security.

“We have always been open to working with them [farmers]. We are now in the process of getting formal leases done at the minimum cost, which will allow them to occupy the land and continue their farming. This has always been our objective,” he emphasised.

The agreement will state that no permanent structure will be allowed on the lands and the lands should be used strictly for farming purposes.

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

Since March, the 52-year-old farmer has been cultivating cash crops and rearing cattle, using funds, she said, she borrowed from her son. Before her meeting with Shoucair, Patterson feared the worse, after she was reportedly told that applying for the land does not guarantee that they will be given it.

Earlier this week, she expressed gratitude for the decisions made to formalise their tenancy.

“The gentleman [Shoucair] called me and he came himself to talk to us and let us know that he is willing to work with us and that we can continue farming. Because I was really worried I was going to lose all of my money, my entire farm has been planted with crops. So, I am very thankful,” she told the Observer West.

Doreen Tate, another farmer, pointed out that the grazing of the land by stray animals was one of her biggest challenges as cows and goats owned by other farmers roamed freely and destroyed her crops.

But since the meeting with Shoucair, the farmers have been allowed to erect perimeter fences.

“I am especially grateful that we were allowed to fence the farms, because they [SCJH] had told us before that we were not allowed to put up fences, and I had to be out here running the goats every day,” she said.

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