Back in June 2015 Santander Farms handed over one hundred and sixty acres of farm land to Valley of Peace farmers after they had taken them to court over crops destroyed due to aerial spraying by Santander Farms, known at the time as Green Tropics. All this was over two years ago. Fast forward to July 20, 2017 and the farmers’ association has now sealed the deal as the Lands Department has issued them with the land title. Julius Espat, Cayo South Area Representative played a key role in supporting and assisting the farmers; he gave us an update.
Espat says Santander Farms was quite generous in this agreement with the farmers.
“Its 150 acre and about ten acres for a buffer zone inclusive in that Santander went in and did canals so that the land can have access to water and so up to now it seems to be working. Apart from that they also got financial compensation. Remember the land that they wanted all the lands weren’t in on area and one of the request of the negotiation was that Santander was requesting that they all could be placed in one area so that it didn’t affect the farming operation which is large scale farming and so we agreed to that and they also gave a financial compensation for the farmers to move from the original plots that they were and relocate to the area that they now are so everything that was part of the agreement happened; financial compensation happened and it was received, documentation and title was promised and yes last week it was also received.”
As it relates to the management of the community farmlands, Espat explained that there is a method that the farmers are adhering to.
“The names that appear on the association are only the farmers but each farmer provides for their families and their families assist them in the farming operation. It’s a communal effort so the wives are there to help when the harvest is there, some of the members are tasked to do the marketing, other members are tasked to do the transportation from the Valley of Peace and Belmopan to Belize City. Some middlemen operate within the system also so it’s a dynamic business and Belizeans have to be aware especially that Belize City and Belmopan over 75% of the vegetables that we consume in the city markets come out of that area. They have their own internal way of handling the business I don’t think that they share the profits. The profits basically each person that utilizes the land and works the land the profits are for the individual. There are some cases and I am aware of many cases where three or five of them pool together and they invest as one. I know a family that works in St.George’s Caye they are caretakers, they are constructors and builders and so the money that they earn outside of the Valley of Peace they invest it in the farmland and so it’s a good movement.”
Santander had undertaken the cost for the survey and parcelling of the land as well as its clearing. The lands handed over have a value of about three hundred and twenty thousand dollars.