The farmers in Valley of Peace, Cayo District and the Valley of Peace Farms Limited (VOPFL) may be seeing the light at the end of the tunnel as it relates to their ongoing land dispute. Yesterday, our news team was out west and we got the farmers’ side of the story. Reporter Courtney Menzies went back out west and heard from the company owner himself, Gilbert Canton Jr. Here is that update.
Courtney Menzies, Love FM News: The land issue brewing in the west may be coming to an amicable end. Yesterday we told you about the plight of the Valley of Peace farmers who believe that they land that they have been working on for years has been sold from under their feet. They also believe that the buyer Valley of Peace Farms Limited is treating them unfairly by denying them access to their farms. Today the company invited the media as well as the chairman of the village and the chairman of the farmers association for a sit down to try and chart the way forward. The general manager of VOPFL, Gilbert Cantun Jr, stated that they are willing to negotiate with the farmer to ensure a happy ending for all.
Gilbert Cantun, General Manager, Valley of Peace Farms Limited: “We have committed to coming to an agreement. We know we have to give up some land and that’s why these issues when they get contentious and threats are made I go “Guys we have agreed to give up land, we know we’re giving back land.” We have to get through that negotiation just hold fast until we can get through that negotiation but we know that land is coming off this farm. So it’s just a matter of maintaining the peace while that whole process happens. These guys have to feed their families at the end of the day, we have a business plan that we have to execute, we’ve put a lot of money into this company and we are working towards getting to be profitable we need to do that in a safe environment so we have to find that balance and like I’ve explained to you guys yes we have farmers we also have folks that are there bettering themselves, that are learning, that are growing feeding their families maybe they’ll buy a peace of land themselves one day that’s what we’re working towards.”
Courtney Menzies, Love FM News: Canton went on to explain the reasons that they decided to restrict access to their property which in turn bars some of the farmers from accessing their farms.
Gilbert Cantun, General Manager, Valley of Peace Farms Limited: “We fenced our farm and started restricting access in 2017 as well. It’s private property and more than it just being private property and private road we run very large equipment and nothing gets me scared like seeing an eight year old on a bicycle next to one of those pieces of equipment. That is scary for me, very scary or worse a cane truck hauling a hundred and twenty tons so we try to keep it- the entire farm is an industrial zone people are trained to be here they need to have that level of training to be on this farm. We had lots of threats in that time period, our contractors were threatened to be shot, we had some diesel tanks shot, we had some threats to burn equipment we start seeing this conflict starting to happen. We always work with the chairman to kind of resolve these and kind of work through them. We got to the point where we used to give a key to every member of our company and we were at a point where we couldn’t do that anymore. We had a breach that came in and we had an altercation where Mr.Lewis Wade came in and he came on to our property with Mr.Blandon which was not authorized so we realize we have these security issues and we just cut off our access after that.”
Courtney Menzies, Love FM News: Another issue that arose though is the possibility that PRUvarious plots of land owned by VOPFL may already be leased to the farmers. According to Canton if this is the case then they have no problem rectifying it.
Gilbert Cantun, General Manager, Valley of Peace Farms Limited: “There are some concerns as well about lands in these purple areas here that may have leases on them so if they have leases that predate my title that’s it and if lands comes back to me and says “This lease predates your title.” what am I to do I got nothing do about it. If we go to court and court tells me that’s their land I’m gonna follow the rule of law because what we’re really talking about here is the rule of law.”
Courtney Menzies, Love FM News: We saw for ourselves that this possibility exists. The chairman of VOP Farmers Association Ever Blandon brought lease papers for another farmer Arturo Magana that was dated 2002 for parcel #744. This falls within VOPFLs private property and their title paper is dated 2013. Canton stressed that this is why it is necessary to continue negotiations in the presence of the Ministry of Natural Resources. Additionally for the farmers that don’t have leases Canton stated that they will be allowed to keep farming on the property but they will simply have to relocate. This is a developing story and we will continue to follow it closely.