Over sixty farmers in Valley of Peace, Cayo District remain in limbo as they are yet to get an update from the Lands Department pertaining to land ownership. The situation has been building for some time until it came to a head in March when the farmers blocked the roads preventing the Valley of Peace Farms Limited from accessing the area. The contention is between the farmers and the Valley of Peace Farms Limited, but the situation can only be solved with the help of the Lands Department. That is because both parties have official documents to portions of the land. The farmers have been working the land for over two decades; but the company has had title to eleven thousand, two hundred and seventy three acres, inclusive of the farmers’ lease land measuring one thousand, one hundred and fifteen acres of that land. The March protest saw the intervention of the Lands Department and an order that no development should occur on the land under dispute. That was almost seven months ago and the farmers who harvest primarily cabbage are left uncertain of the way forward. The five dozen farmers rely on the crops for their daily survival and in some instances some were forced to seek that survival elsewhere. The farmers have since formed an association and according to its Chairman, Miguel Ico, they have no access to their farmlands, the multi-million dollar company has gotten police officers involved and have been monitoring the lands the farmers once plowed, with drones.
Miguel Ico, Member of Farmers Committee: “We haven’t gotten feedback or any response from the government itself to find an amicable solution to the problem that we’re facing. We met with the Minister of Lands in March but due to the pandemic the offices were closed and since then we haven’t been able to meet with anybody. Our attempts have been futile to get an update of the last meeting we had and now the company continues to bully us so to speak because it is adamant that farmers leave what they know to be the source of their livelihood and that would be the land that they are farming so we believe it is time they bring back this issue to the attention of the government and of course the nation so that people are aware of this continuous battle that we are having against this company. The company has now decided to take the farmers to court and these farmers are worried as to what will be the outcome. I mean we can’t go into details of the case but we believe that you know the company is simply using every avenue or every channel that it can possibly find within the government system to try to intimidate these farmers. It is bad enough that it went to the lands department to get titles for these lands that rightfully belong to the farmers, not it is trying to use the court system now to say these farmers got to go so the company is just acting in a bullish way to intimidate the farmers.”
The Valley of Peace Farms is owned by a multi-million dollar pork producer in the USA and is managed by Belizean Gilbert Cantun Junior. We will continue to follow this story.