I wish to respond to some of the issues raised by Mr Rajpat Singh in SN on March 17 (‘Farmers should continue to educate themselves about their business’). He purports to be a rice farmer and he “urged farmers to continue to educate themselves in every conceivable aspect with regards to the current world scenario, especially as it relates to rice and its global perspective and plan, so that they can better equip themselves for the future, whether a month or even five years ahead.”
Mr Singh should know that the organisation which should represent rice farmers, the Guyana Rice Producers Association (RPA), has become a poodle of the Jagdeo regime. Mr Singh should know, if he is a rice farmer, that the RPA produces a very flashy quarterly journal called the Farmer, but the journal is left to gather dust in the head office, at Crane, West Coast, Demerara. The journal is used as a propaganda tool; it does very little to educate the rice farmers and the general public about what is really going on in the rice industry.
Rice farmers and their children have no opportunity to express any critical opinion or view in the journal about their industry. The person who produces the journal has no direct relationship with the rice industry, except eating the product. In the last issue, the editorial section of journal went completely out of its way to viciously attack Mr Turhane Doerga, the CEO of the Alesie Mill, because he dared to stand up consistently for rice farmers in Guyana.
I agree with Mr Rajpat Singh that the rice farmers should be educated, so that they fully understand the industry and all the complications. More important, the farmers must be empowered, which means they must be totally in control of their industry and their organisation. For a genuine education programme to be effective and productive, the RPA has to be given back to the rice farmers, who must be involved at the grassroots level to evolve such a programme. The RPA must be run democratically, free from all party political and bureaucratic interference. We need to prevent handpicked people from being imposed on the rice farmers from Freedom House, and moreover from President Jagdeo’s office.
It is appropriate, I think, to quote from one of the fathers of our nation and a longstanding champion of rice farmers, Dr Cheddi Jagan: “We see development as people-centred. When some speak of development, they see only foreign capital and private investment. We see also social capital and human resources…”
For these changes to come about, we need to amend the constitution of the RPA, to prevent persons elected to parliament (MPs) from one political party or another being appointed to the organisation. Rice farmers need to have the right to elect their leaders and not have them imposed from above. Currently, the General Secretary of the RPA is a PPP member of parliament and he is not accountable to the rice farmers, but to his political masters, the PPP and in this context, President Jagdeo.
But despite this betrayal of the rice farmers, it is heartening to note that Guyanese consumers are coming out on the side of the rice farmers, because they now understand that if the rice farmers are unable to plant rice, given the current price for paddy, which stands at $2,500 and $3,000 per bag, they would have to pay more for rice in the local shops.
It is also noteworthy that the Guyana Trade Union Congress, (GTUC), the largest section of African-Guyanese workers in Guyana, has come out in full support of rice farmers. This has never happened in the history of our country, and now we see the largest section of rural workers (rice farmers) and urban workers supporting each other for their mutual survival. That bond must be consolidated by this new generation of farmers and workers.
It must also be seen as an important step in the struggle to unite our people across race. Racism has always been used as the basis of keeping our people separated and at war, to the detriment of ourselves. A straw poll carried out among farmers and workers recently, shows that 99 per cent of our people are firmly against the race politics played out by the two main political parties in our country.
The rice farmers are also well aware of the propaganda put out by GINA which was replicated, unfortunately, by Stabroek News on Monday, March 16, under the misguided caption, ‘Rice farmers aid to cost $800M.’ Absolutely nothing was said about the current price for paddy, which is the most important issue at the time.
Some of us think that the Jagdeo administration has intimidated the Stabroek News enough to force it to redirect from its pristine tradition of upholding democracy and human justice. One now sees the greatness of David de Caires, a man who stood up for the poor, oppressed and exploited, regardless of the consequences.
I hope that the truth will be told about the crisis in the rice industry and we can all save it from collapse.
Mr Rampersaud omitted a key element when reproducing the Stabroek News headline which he describes as “misguided,” namely, the attribution to Minister Robert Persaud (‘Rice farmers aid to cost $800M – Persaud’). In other words, it was clear from the caption that the newspaper was quoting Minister Persaud. Furthermore, it is standard practice to rewrite press releases and carry them in the paper, whether they come from GINA or any other agency or organization.
When we do this, we always cite the source of the information, to distinguish it from our own reporting, and this was done very clearly in this instance at various points in the story. Stabroek News has carried several reports on the problems in the rice industry and the reactions of farmers, including one on the GTUC and Mr Doerga’s support of rice farmers to which Mr Rampersaud refers.