Rice farmers owed over $300m for last crop

Rice farmers across Guyana are owed in excess of $300 million by millers since the record-breaking 2013 crop, according to the Agriculture Ministry.

The ministry along with the Guyana Rice Develop-ment Board (GRDB) will commence a payment scheme with millers to ensure that farmers are paid in full all outstanding monies by next week. Farmers on the Essequibo and Corentyne have been restive over the outstanding payments.

Minister of Agriculture, Dr Leslie Ramsammy, issued a statement yesterday outlining the decision to assist with facilitating a payment plan.

Speaking with Esse-quibo rice farmers, Stabroek News has learnt that many farmers are owed in excess of $2 million each, which has caused a strain on millers.

One farmer said that while the agriculture ministry is stating that payments will be made, “farmers have heard all of this before…we going where we know we getting paid. Hopefully farmers get the money that is owed, but we hear this before.”

He said that today representatives from the ministry and the GRDB are to be in the Essequibo region to speak with farmers and that the payment plan was presumably what would be discussed. “We didn’t hear anything before of this, but they coming tomorrow. I think GRDB already here so we going to wait and see what they have to say.”

This newspaper was told that the millers who have never had issues with paying farmers in a timely manner in the past are feeling the pressure since paddy harvesting has begun for the first crop of 2014. “Caricom (Rice Mills), they are doing 15 loads of paddy per day, they used to take about 40 loads,” one farmer stated.

He said that the backlog of rice at the mills yet to be shipped to Venezuela and other markets has significantly slowed the process down, and that some millers don’t want to get into the predicament of buying paddy they can’t pay for or store.

The rice farmer told Stabroek News, “It is an ongoing issue…every year we have these issues with payments”. The farmer added that this year millers seemed hesitant to incur more debts to farmers. He said that “people are going to Caricom because they know they are going to be paid, but Caricom is not taking as much paddy.”

He said that “they feeling the pressure because they are paying cash and have long lines of trailers waiting,” while continuing that Caricom Rice Mills’ prices are in line with market prices for the various grades of paddy.

Stabroek News was told that farmers are earning less this year as is to be expected now that the market has been flooded. “People are getting around $3100 maybe more for the best grade, some farmers may be getting as low as $2700 for the other grades, but that isn’t normal”, one farmer stated.

He clarified that last year’s prices were higher for the best grades of paddy sitting around $3800, but that “mills still have rice. All this has to move before they can buy paddy and we not moving rice as fast.”

Currently Guyana has roughly 100,000 tonnes of rice still on hand that is yet to be sold to other markets.

Guyana recently signed a 50,000-tonne rice export deal with Haiti through a private-public arrangement. The SAJ Rice Mill Inc at Burma, Mahaicony assisted to broker the deal which involves weekly shipments of 1200-1500 tonnes. SAJ has exported to Haiti in the past. This deal is a joint effort where various millers will supply rice to meet the weekly demand.

The government is working on an additional 50,000-tonne export deal with Haiti that is to be finalized soon according to sources. GRDB representatives were also in Belize a few weeks ago to finalise an additional 5,000-tonne export deal. The agriculture minister has stated that Guyana is looking to increase rice exports to new markets in 2014 while expanding existing markets. He has stated that the Caribbean region imports from various Southeast Asian countries and Guyana can potentially tap into those markets.

Guyana’s rice production in 2013 was over 532,000, almost 30 percent over the target of 413,000 tonnes.

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