Forest Reserves razed after enforcement 'turned blind eye'
Photo courtesy Minister of Agriculture, Lands and Fisheries, Clarence Rambharat.
Investigations have been launched as to why law enforcement within the Forestry Division failed to stop farmers who razed approximately 300 acres of forest reserves in order to plant crops such as pineapples and chadon beni (bandania).
Minister of Agriculture, Lands and Fisheries, Clarence Rambharat, said there are several investigations into the illegal occupation of Forest Reserves in which was discovered in Tableland and other parts of South Trinidad earlier this week.
He said the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service (TTPS) and the Forestry Division have launched investigations into the damage to the Forest Reserve and illegal occupation of Forest Reserves and State Lands.
He said an internal investigation has also been launched into "several aspects" of the Forestry Division, including the causes of failure to stop the destruction of these Forest Reserves.
Rambharat shared photos of the destruction via social media.
It was reported that rogue farmers in Ecclesville and Navet destroyed forests in order to cultivate bandania (chadon beni) and dasheen crops.
He said there was evidence of the use of pesticides and other chemicals which may have polluted nearby watercourses.
Rambharat said it is alleged that there is a 'clique' which is 'above the law'.
(Photo: A rogue farmer's pineapple crops and cleared land being prepared for more crops.Other forest reserves along Glod Road had also been destroyed.)
"The real price of local pineapples! Many pineapple farmers in Tableland, Glod Road and other parts of South East do the right thing. But increasingly, a clique has operated above the law, while law enforcement has turned a blind eye."
Rambharat said this destruction must be stopped.
"I take full responsibility for the action that must be taken and today I accompanied Forest Officers and other Ministry staff to some of these areas, ensuring that they take note of the various offences taking place and set in train the prosecution of these violations."
"At the heart of it, while law enforcement turned a blind eye, hundreds of acres of Forest Reserve have been bulldozed to make way for pineapples. The line has been drawn and this must be stopped," he said.
Under the National Forest Policy 2011, government is mandated to prevent or mitigate against threats posed by invasive alien species, planned and unplanned physical development, unsustainable practices such as forest fires, unregulated quarrying and illegal logging.
Under the policy, government was mandated to create, within three years of the policy being published, a Forestry and Protected Areas Management Authority to 'administer the coordination and implementation of the National Forest Policy on the island of Trinidad'.
Rambharat said currently the protection of national parks falls under the Forestry Division, and changes are being made to ensure that National Parks are given more prominence.
This is being facilitated through the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), which is assisting Trinidad and Tobago with environmental management.