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Controlling our Food Supply

By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
June 06, 2008

During the forties and the fifties, Corpus Christi was planting day. On that day, my mother and my brother planted every available piece of land around our house with corn, peas, dasheen bush, tanais and yams. These crops were supplement by breadfruits, a slave food, spinach which grew wildly around the village, mangoes, an import from India, tomatoes, a native plant from South and Central America, and a host of other fruits and vegetables. We purchased cow's milk from our Indian neighbors who lived in the gutter (El Dorado) and sometimes the Scotts would supply us with goat milk.

In those days, most of our families worked on the Trinidad Sugar Estates at Orange Grove where we eked out small sums of monies that took care of such things as pitch oil (kerosene), our clothes and our books. Each year the Estate held a life stock show where we displayed our best agricultural products and our animals and competed for prizes. Most of the families in Tacarigua, El Dorado, Cane Farm and Five Rivers made a living from the estate and contributed enormously to the profits that the "owners" of Orange Grove made.

Around the mid 1950s the Trinidad Sugar Estates got into financial trouble and began to sell off its lands. It also began its first housing experiment by converting the cane lands north of the Churchill Roosevelt Highway (we use to call it the Yankee Road) and west of the Orange Grove Road into a housing estate. It was first set of houses that started off the community that is now known as Trincity and which was extended later to include other housing complexes.

In 1961, the English owners formed a real estate company called International Property Development. In 1968, the government of Trinidad and Tobago bought "crop-sharing interest" from the English owners for $4.5 million leaving the bulk of the estate in the hands of the English. In 1975, the England company needed immediate cash and sold their Trinidad interest to a group of local entrepreneurs operating under the name of Home Construction Limited, directed by Tajmool Hosein and Ameer Ali Edoo. On August 26, 1975, Chandricha Dwaricka Seeterrran joined Hosein and Edoo as directors of the company. One day later. Mervyn De Souza also became a director of the company.

On August 27, 1975, an agreement was made between International Property Development and Home Construction to buy Orange Grove for the sum of $15,016,800. Thus seven days after the company was registered it agreed to buy one of the most important piece of real estates in Trinidad. On October 31, the sale was consummated and Home Construction became the owner of 3,500 acres of prime property. Home Construction paid only $780,000 in cash to obtain this property. Through a complicated set of maneuvers, it received a loan of $10,216,800 to complete the transaction.

Such a coup gave Home Construction a license to print money. In 1978 Home Construction sold 1,140 acres to Government for $14.5 million and within six years made $13,598,101 in profits. In other words, six years after purchasing these lands with $780,000 in cash Home Construction had made over $25 million dollars with lands that was stolen from the people in the first place by William Burnely, the biggest slave holder in Trinidad. I document this story in Movement of the People.

Today, in is alleged that 450 acres of prime agricultural land at Orange Grove is being taken over by Blue Waters Products from the French conglomerate Pernod Richard. No one knows exactly what's involved in this deal. However, as resident of Tacarigua (my family has lived in this area since 1832) one is always amazed how the lands upon which our forebears and us sweated to generate the capital to built this country goes from one company to another without even an explanation offered about what is taking place. Everyone seems to know what is best for the people except the people themselves.

Lone Star Construction Company is laying the foundation for a big factory. Some reports suggests that Blue Waters is about to alter the use of prime agricultural lands for uses that none of us in the area knows about. At a time when the world, and particularly our island, is threaten by the increased cost of food, should we not be conserving all of our agricultural lands to grow our own food?

Perhaps we should pause and look at what we are doing to our lands and our people. In The End of Food Paul Roberts has warned: "Arable land is growing scarcer and scarcer. Inputs like pesticides and synthetic nitrogen fertilizers are increasingly expensive. Soil degradation and erosion from hyperintensive farming is costing millions of acres of farmlands a year. Water supplies are rapidly depleted in parts of the world, even as the rising price of calling into question the entire agribusiness model."

God, is true, might be a Trini, but don't we think we are pushing things a bit too far. Shouldn't we be pushing our system of food production into overdrive? Shouldn't the people upon whom the calamity of food shortage and rising prices will descend have a say in how their lands are being distributed and used?

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