A week after Agriculture Minister Dr Leslie Ramsammy publicly announced that the country’s rice industry had produced a record 300,000-tonne first crop for this year, Stabroek Business has learnt that many of the more than 1,500 rice farmers in Essequibo are displeased over the long-standing and seemingly insoluble problem of protracted payments for paddy delivered to the mills.
On Sunday, President of the Essequibo Paddy Association Naith Ram said members of the association were angry over the dichotomy between official boasting about the performance of the rice sector and failure to ensure that the rice farmers who had done so much to make that possible were not being compensated in a timely manner. Ram said he believed more should be done to help ensure that farmers benefit from an environment which would encourage them to produce more.
Ram told this newspaper that rice mills on the Essequibo coast have been persistently in breach of the Rice Factories Act of 1998,
which stipulates that farmers should be paid 50 per cent of the total value of the paddy delivered within two weeks from the date of receipt of the paddy and the remaining amount within 42 days of the signing of the agreement. Where payments are not made within the time frame stipulated in the Act the miller becomes liable to pay the farmer interest on the amount owed at the rate of 2% above the average commercial lending rate for the month in which the payment falls due.
Ram said little had been done to ensure compliance with the
provisions of the Act and the implications of late payments to farmers included them having to incur debt or sell cattle and livestock which many of them rear in addition to their rice cultivation pursuits.
Asked whether the association had sat down with millers to discuss the paddy payment issues, Ram said efforts by farmers to engage the millers directly on the issue of late payment have been mostly unsuccessful. “It is not that easy for farmers to get to see the millers,” Ram told Stabroek Business.
Meanwhile, Ram says that while there was the option of moving to the courts against the millers, farmers were reluctant to do so out of fear that the millers might not buy their paddy in the future. He added that word could spread to other mills and farmers who moved to the courts could end up being blacklisted.
According to Ram, letters sent to President Donald Ramotar by the association seeking a meeting with him to discuss and, hopefully, resolve the late payment and other problems facing Essequibo rice farmers have gone unanswered.
On Wednesday, Deputy General Manager of the Guyana Rice Development Board (GRDB) Ricky Ramraj told Stabroek Business that while late payments by millers to Essequibo farmers meant that they might have to ensure some hardship, the lateness was due to cash flow issues linked to delays in rice sales. Ramraj said the increased rice yield coupled with less than robust price levels had created other challenges for the rice sector. Ramraj said that both Dr Ramsammy and GRDB General Manager Jagnarine Singh were currently out of the country seeking markets for rice currently being stored in silos in Guyana.
According to Ramraj, just recently, government had allocated US$10 million to help cover outstanding payments to farmers.