Hope Estate farmers owe $3.8M in rents

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HOPE Estate Manager, Ricky Roopchand on Monday called on farmers who owe the estate $3.8M for lands utilised by them to pay up or face legal action.
Roopchand in a letter to the editor said there are three categories of farmers who owe rent to the Hope Estate. As of January this year, of the 237 farmers who are all tenants of the Hope Estate, 103 farmers owe the estate some $3.8M. Three notices have since been sent out to the delinquent farmers to pay their debt or enter into an arrangement with the management of the estate to remedy the situation.
“To date 35 farmers have paid, leaving 65 farmers who are still to honour their financial obligation with the Estate. These defaulters have until the end of March 2017, to do as outlined in the third and final notice,” Roopchand said in his letter.
He noted that many of the defaulters owe rent as far back as 2009,and according to him there are three categories of farmers:Category one represents farmers who “willingly pay their rent to Hope Estate without a fuss” while the second category refers to farmers who would “rant and rave but eventually will settle their outstanding arrears.”
The final category of farmers are those who “deliberately” make no effort to pay their rents to the estate.
Only recently, Agriculture Minister, Noel Holder, told Hope Estate Farmers that soon the annual government subvention to the Estate will come to a halt. Holder made it clear that 2017 is the last year government would be providing the subvention. Additionally, the Minister said while he empathise with the farmers, Hope Estate must be managed as a business so that it can sustain itself.
The fees to rent lands to cash crop and rice farmers have increased from $5000 per acre annually to $15,000 per acre annually,while livestock farmers are required to pay $4000 per acre annually. There are only two livestock farmers.
Farmers have repeatedly complained that the increase in the cost to rent lands will provide hardship on them and have since protested the move by the administration to increase the rental fees.
Minister Holder had also called on farmers who are cultivating crops on access dams to discontinue same.
“Farmers must understand that they are tenants and not owners of the land. Those farmers who have chosen not to pay will most likely face legal action that is swift and decisive,” said Roopchand.
Meanwhile, management of Hope Estate is currently seeking land to re-establish coconut cultivation and as such, any land reclaimed by the estate will “most likely be used for coconut cultivation or some other developmental project as the Estate sees fit.”
The Hope Estate Manager made it clear that in order for the Estate to survive and not become a “mini Guysuco” the Estate’s income must be strengthened to ensure sustainability and development which would be beneficial to both farmers and the agricultural sector.
“As the deadline approaches for those farmers who are indebted to the Estate, I would like to take this opportunity to appeal to them to come into the office and make suitable arrangements to address this issue,” said Roopchand as he awaits directive from the newly-appointed Board of Directors of Hope Estate and Minister Holder.