Charity/Urasara Farmers from riverain communities feel neglected -space for produce at Charity gi By Miranda La Rose
Stabroek News
January 10, 2004

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(This is the tenth in a series on local government)
Residents of riverain communities in the Pomeroon River do not feel that they are an integral part of the Charity/Urasara Neighbourhood as they receive no services and are squeezed out when they go to sell produce at Charity.

They come under the jurisdiction of the Charity/Urasara Neighbourhood Democratic Council (NDC), which covers such areas as Somerset, New Road and Charity but also the riverain communities of Jacklow, Siriki, Abrams Creek, Urasara and Cozier. These residents do not pay rates and taxes to the NDC Office nor do they receive services in return. They say that even if they did pay compulsory dues, it would be more costly for the NDC to service their needs.

Instead each resident cares for their own river defence on their grants or plantations including dams, drainage trenches, culverts and sluices. In times of emergencies residents from neighbouring grants come out and help each other for no payment. It is more about self-sufficiency.

Alvin 'Mello' Melville of Grant Brooklyn, Jacklow and a farmer for 55 years said that he was actually elected an NDC councillor but resigned because it was too costly for him to travel to attend statutory meetings and meet other obligations. In addition to that he had his farm to maintain.

Melville said that it would be difficult for the NDC to send in machines to work in the river. The NDC does not have its own means of transportation and this is despite it being a necessity. Almost every resident in the riverain areas has their own boat and engine.

Pesky parrots and no place to sell

Melville said the NDC should urge the central government to help the people in the riverain areas to deal with the bird nuisance that is ruining crops. He said that in all his years of farming he had never suffered so many losses from parrots and macaws that are destroying crops, particularly the carambola (five-finger). For this current crop, he said he had lost over 40,000 pounds of fruit, which would have been sold at a minimum of $240,000.

He said that the more the farmers shoot the birds the more they seem to thrive and at the rate the birds are thriving farmers would not be able to maintain their export markets.

He feels there is also a need for representation in the area of marketing. Since the New Guyana Marketing Corporation (NGMC), the Charity Agricultural Extension Centre and the `farmers' shed' stopped serving the farmers, Melville said they find themselves at the mercy of the hucksters whose "grading methods are tough" and farmers do not get the right prices. He said apart from the intervention of the Minister of Local Government and Regional Development, farmers need the intervention of the ministers responsible for industry and commerce, and agriculture.

Some time ago, he said that the New GMC held a seminar for farmers to encourage them to support the new entity. However, he said that in spite of promises that persons would come and buy their produce, there was no follow up. One farmer said that the Pomeroon River area is probably the largest fruit producing area in the country but the market for fruits is not readily available.

The building that formerly housed the Charity Agricultural Extension Centre now houses a snackette, jewellery, radio repair shop and a branch office of the National Insurance Scheme. There is also an office for the NDC Chairman and a section is used as a storage bond. The run-down farmers' shed was pulled down a few years ago to build a new wharf after a $30M wharf built at Charity floated away and sank.

Ivy Williams, a farmer of Grant Friendship and Parsram Persaud, the chairman of the Pomeroon Farmers' Association, both told Stabroek News that farmers are at a disadvantage at Charity.

They both said that priority was being given to stall holders to sell corn curls and sweets in the very area where the farmers' wharf and shed should be.

Williams said that she travels to Charity on Sundays to catch the hucksters to sell her `bulk produce'. She stays overnight on the wharf and if it rains she has to brave the elements. She said that `Juice Man' who has a snackette in the vicinity would help out but he cannot shelter all the farmers.

Once she sells her `bulk produce' on Mondays - the big market day - she would put out a few greens, vegetables and fruits and sell on a table on the wharf but these would be exposed to the sun.

Parsram said that a number of farmers would put out their tables with ochroes, pumpkins, boulangers and after one day in the sun, they would be unfit for consumption.

He pleaded for the reconstruction of the farmers' shed and a return of the wharf to the farmers, who he said were being phased out.

Three Mondays ago, farmers picketed the NDC to back their demands for improved conditions at Charity. Persaud said that the Regional Chairman, Ali Baksh had since put up a tarpaulin to aid in the situation. While helpful to a few, who get to the wharf earlier than others, it is still insufficient.

He said that the farmers were told that if the authorities move the stallholders from the wharf, then the snackette owner, known as `Juice Man' would have to move as well. `Juice Man' has been plying his trade on that site for the past 21 years.

Williams and other farmers said that 'Juice Man' is a major buyer of their fruits and putting him out would also inconvenience them.

Government funds need to

come earlier in year

Meanwhile the NDC's challenge in the new year is the construction of the new housing scheme where a number of lots have been allocated but there are no roads. In addition, residents told Stabroek News that where the new lots are allocated, the land would need "plenty of building up as it is sinking."

Within the new scheme at Charity, streets will have to be built and the annual $3 million subvention given to the NDC will be insufficient given the fact that other infrastructure will have to be laid down to enable people to live there in relative comfort.

NDC Chairman, Ayube Khan told Stabroek News that the NDC would prefer the disbursement of funds early in the year instead of at mid-year. Because of the late disbursement of the subvention no capital work is done during the first half of the year.

Meanwhile there were complaints by several residents that Khan is unavailable when senior government officials visit the area even when President Bharrat Jagdeo visited the area recently. Some said that they picketed him and sent a petition to the Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development seeking his and the council's removal from office and for an interim management committee.

However, they say that the ministry conducted an inquiry and found no fault. They feel that he is well protected by the regional chairman and the ministers.

Chairman denies nepotism

One resident who preferred to remain anonymous said that nepotism had become a problem. He said that Khan's family had three stalls in the market. One is a stall in the vicinity of the site where the farmers' shed was pulled down.

Khan, however, told this newspaper that he did not have a stall. His children and in-laws who are grown-ups manage their own stalls. Khan's daughter, who has a stall on the wharf, told Stabroek News that she was granted permission by the regional administration of Region Two to construct the stall. She said that just because she is the chairman's daughter she was being singled out by a set of people because of politics. She said she was entitled to make a living like everyone else.

Stabroek News raised these issues with Khan. To the claims that he hides from government officials, Khan said that he is accountable and as such cannot hide. He could always be found at his office more often on a working day than not. He said his office is centrally located and most people visit him to raise their problems. But he admits to not being able to travel and move within the NDC as he and other councillors would like because they do not have their own means of transportation. There was even one report, which said he owns three house lots but Khan said he only owns the homestead on which he lives.

Khan said that Charity/Urasara is a young NDC. When he and the council took office, they started "from scratch". The work is done on a voluntary basis. The NDC, he said, is trying to manage what could be termed "a rapidly growing area" in terms of population if not development, and trying to put systems in place.

The NDC collects just about $400,000 a year in rates and taxes because the revenue base is small. Like other NDCs it receives a $3M subvention for capital works. The neighbourhood is large and covers riverain and land areas and the NDC does not have its own vehicle or boat and engine for councillors or the overseer to travel as they would like.

It is the biggest of the five NDCs in the region but it is also sparsely populated. Managing the NDC with one paid staffer and few resources, he said, is challenging and there is very little or nothing that could be done for farmers.

Too much garbage in river

Noting that refuse collection is a problem and that farmers and others continue to dump garbage in the river, he said that the laws (28:02) are archaic and the fines are so small they do not serve as a deterrent to defaulters. "Those fines are not for these modern times."

In terms of a landfill, he said that the Environmental Protection Agency had already identified a site but some $2M is required for this purpose.

Khan noted that there are two new housing schemes, one already being occupied and the other still to get off the ground. Both would have to be brought under the NDC. He said that there is need for a new appraisal of rates and taxes to increase the revenue base as well as to bring others within the tax net.

He added that the new scheme has not been handed over as yet because there is a need to upgrade the road and the Central Board of Health needs to give its approval and lot owners are also awaiting their transport documents.

Much of the problems with the market were inherited, he said and added that the NDC only took over the administration of the market this year and it needed to be regularised.

He said that one of the first things he told councillors at their first statutory meeting was that if they felt they could not serve they should leave. However, he did not expect to serve for nine years due to the deferred local government elections. He said that he has taken his task, though a voluntary position, seriously.

In his meeting with Jagdeo, he said they discussed plans to erect a temporary mall in an area earmarked for a car park, to house the vendors until the situation with the market is brought under control with the reconstruction and extension of the current market.

The Charity Agricultural Extension Centre where the NDC also has an office and where he can be found is still controlled by the Region Two administration. He said that the wharf attached to the extension centre is also in dire need of repairs, a recommendation he has made to the regional administration.