The rice industry is on “shaky ground,” APNU Member of Parliament Jennifer Wade said yesterday as she called on the government to assist farmers who are in dire need even as a fellow member from the government side Cornell Damon proclaimed that the administration was standing firmly behind rice farmers throughout the country.
Wade and Damon presented different views on the sector during their contribution to the budget debates in the National Assembly yesterday, with the former saying that farmers in Region Two are producing to their capacity and because of this situation the millers sometimes dominate the playing field and pay low prices for paddy purchased from them.
In recent times, farmers in Essequibo have been protesting over paddy payments and drainage issues and have been demanding to have an audience with Minister of Agriculture Dr Leslie Ramsammy or President Donald Ramotar.
Damon proposed that from the $500M to be allocated to the industry in this year’s proposed $220B budget, a rice mill should be built in Region Two.
Saying the industry is in a crisis, Wade noted that rice farmers across Guyana are suffering and it is time for the government to recognise their plight and for the implementation of a programme to “aggressively market Guyana’s rice.” Further, she said that there is a “backlog” of rice at the mills yet to be shipped and she proposed that the government look to increase rice export since the situation is affecting both farmers and millers. She said that rice farmers are owed in excess of $300M by millers for 2013 and questioned where is the payment plan because the farmers need to be paid in a timely manner.
While farmers are paid meagre prices for their paddy, Wade said the production cost is very high as they have to buy seed paddy, fertiliser and fuel and are also saddled with high cost for transportation, labour and harvesting. She suggested that the government engage all stakeholders in the industry to formulate strategies so as to ensure long term profitability and growth.
“Sir, constructive discourse is urgently needed to take the rice industry forward,” Wade said.
Wade also spoke about floods affecting farmers while noting that in Region Five agriculture is its business and the people are looking forward to achieving an appropriate level of food security through a sustainable approach in addressing the key obstacles faced by farmers and stakeholders since no amount of relief can compensate.
Wade also spoke about what she described as millions of dollars being spent through poor government policies, waste, bad planning and poor execution even though there has been no significant improvement in the standard of living of Guyanese.
Touching on the issues affecting the people of Region Five, Wade listed these as the exorbitant toll paid to cross the Berbice bridge, the unavailability of jobs, drainage and irrigation problems, the daily threat of crime, rising incidence of suicides, lack of proper health care facilities, irregular supply of potable water in some areas, lack of electricity, poor roads, flooding and lack of access roads to farmlands.
She said unemployment has created an “army of beggars, drug addicts, destitute people, wandering boys and girls and street children.” Qualified and professional persons are continuing to migrate because of the lack of opportunities and poor standard of living, she added.
The parliamentarian also spoke about villages not being regularised and being unable to access potable water and electricity. She also questioned how residents of the many areas that are without electricity will benefit from the One Laptop Per Family programme.
“Sir, it is disappointing that in this information and technology age that some of our citizens are still using lamps. They cannot view and enjoy a simple television programme,” she said.
She is of the opinion that the country needs a business competitive environment to create jobs for young people, who also need more sporting facilities. Sports, she said, should be taken off the streets and every region should have adequate recreational facilities.
And there are many young girls who are being duped into going into the interior for jobs but instead they are trafficked, a crime she said the government is saying does not exists and which is a clear indication of its unwillingness to seriously address human trafficking.
Wade also called for the child protection division in the region to have a complete overhaul, since according to her the officers are not working in the interest of the region’s children and are not responding positively to reports.
And although the Hugo Chávez Centre for Rehabilitation and Reintegration was commissioned in 2013, Wade said while it is supposed to accommodate 100 males and 80 females nothing is happening even though there are many homeless persons. She questioned whether the centre will be just another white elephant. Wade also called for a malaria centre in the region as there are a large number of persons who are employed in the interior who contract the malaria virus and are finding it difficult to travel to Georgetown or New Amsterdam for treatment.
‘All is well’
Meanwhile, Damon, who represents region two, spoke about all the development being experienced by the people of Region Two during an at times hilarious presentation and he said all is well in Guyana under the PPP/C administration.
Damon, who had to be cautioned by Speaker Raphael Trotman at times for his choice of words and who even listed the West Indies team advancing in the World Cup T20 world cup series, said there are more auto dealers opening businesses in the region, which is proof of the 5% positive growth experienced by the country and also shows that “Essequibians are part and parcel of it.” He spoke about the six banks now with offices in the region and suggested widening the roads in the region to Minister of Works Robeson Benn to avoid accidents since they are congested with vehicles. Damon said that he was shocked at the presentations from the opposition side as they gave the impression that nothing good was happening under the PPP/C administration. He also defended the use of regional vehicles by government ministers, whom he said need to inspect the various projects executed under the budget.
He also chided the opposition for calling for Minister of Home Affairs Clement Rohee to resign—a call he described as “confounded nonsence” while making it clear that the minister is there to stay.