Drying floors constructed in Region Two cannot bring immediate relief to farmers suffering as a result of the current El Nino conditions, former PPP/C MP and Region Two Regional Democratic Council (RDC) vice-chairman Heeralall Mohan says.
He also contends that these drying floors should not have cost the hefty sums announced by the Ministry of Agriculture and called for better accountability.
The government’s move to construct drying floors worth millions, Mohan told Stabroek News in a recent telephone interview, was not well thought out. A feasibility study was not conducted to determine whether this was one of the more pressing facilities needed by farmers. The completed drying floors in Region Two cost around $14 million each.
Mohan has farmed rice for decades. He has endured the many difficulties and back-breaking work done by other small scale farmers during this time. For this crop Mohan cultivated between 26 and 30 acres of rice. El Nino has already taken its share of Mohan’s labour and he believes that the funds available to the Guyana Rice Producers Association (GRPA) through the Ministry of Agriculture could have been better utilized.
Mohan, who was Region Two vice-chairman from 1993 to 1998, and then served as a PPP/C MP from 1998 to 2006, is still a member of the party.
“I’m telling you a bit about myself to show that I am not attacking anyone,” he said. “But not because I support a certain group I will sit by and watch wrong decisions which ultimately cause the people to suffer.”
The drying floors aim to enhance the capacity of farmers to preserve their produce after harvest. When all are completed it is projected that they will enable the production of 6,000 to 7,000 bags of rice daily. Currently, nine drying floors are being constructed throughout the rice-growing regions. While the drying floors are intended to give certain advantages to Region Two farmers these are cancelled out by the fact that many can’t afford to store their paddy for such long periods of time.
Mohan started harvesting on Wednesday after a delay due to the dry conditions. As soon as he cuts his paddy it is transported to a mill where it is mechanically dried. A farmer like himself, Mohan explained, invests heavily in the crop and by the time he is ready to harvest has already incurred a string of expenses he must deal with.
This is what Mohan said on the same point in a recent letter to Stabroek News (published on March 30): “The fact is that when an average farmer has his paddy to reap at any point and time he is very much strapped for cash. He has all his creditors coming down on his narrow back, he has a family to sustain, children going to school, household and family needs and everybody looking forward at this point and time for something. Then this goodly minister is going to tell us to take our paddy to his goodly gift to us (the drying floor) and dry it and stock it up to have negotiating strength with the millers for a better price.”
Minister of Agriculture Robert Persaud said at the recent commissioning of the $14.3 million drying floor at Walton Hall that this initiative is another government effort to revive the rice industry. The industry was in severe danger after the termination of the Other Countries and Territories route that allowed special access into the European market, the minister had pointed out. Funding for the drying floors comes from the $400 million pledged by President Bharrat Jadgeo last year to aid the rice industry.
When contacted for a comment on the issues raised by Mohan about the drying floors the Agriculture Minister told this newspaper that the Guyana Rice Development Board would be responding. However, Stabroek News is yet to receive a response in any form from the rice board. Meanwhile, GRPA General Secretary Dharamkumar Seeraj could not be reached for a comment.
Region Two, according to Mohan, was identified as the benefactor of three drying floors.
Two of these have already been completed and commissioned – at Henrietta and Walton’s Hall.
Revisiting his point on the lack of a feasibility study, Mohan pointed out that farmers were never consulted about the construction sites, the possibility of flooding there, nor about proper ingress and egress.
He continued to list several other faults in the completed drying floors and said that several farmers had objected to the construction sites since they were prone to flooding.
“Drying floors aren’t what we [farmers] need immediately… I can’t understand how it cost so much and this is something that needs to be investigated immediately,” Mohan stated.