Essequibo farmers reap benefits of Venezuela paddy deal

Rice farmers on the Essequibo Coast are “reaping the benefits” of the Venezuelan rice deal as farmers have been receiving higher “standardized” prices for paddy in the predominantly rice-producing area.

During a visit to the Cinderella County on Tuesday, several rice farmers told Stabroek News that they had formed a body called the ‘Farmers Group,’ which was set up to implement measures which would have ensured the smooth progress of rice leaving the area for the neighbouring Bolivarian state.

Rice farmers on the Essequibo Coast have received between $3,300 and $3,500 in payment per bag of paddy for the first crop this year—a higher price than the $2,700 to $2,800 the millers have been paying. For the last crop, the farmers received a more competitive price of $4,000 per bag of paddy.

Reports are that the millers developed a new system for the last crop, with $3,700 being paid for A grade rice, $3,600 for B grade, $3,400 for C grade and $3,000 for D grade.

A Columbia rice farmer, who asked not to be named, told this newspaper on Wednesday that since the Venezuela rice deal was inked several years ago, the farmers in the area had been “looking out” for a better deal.

He noted that for several years within the past decade that they have been “getting a raw deal.” He said that when the arrangement got on stream, the farmers in the area received the blessings of the Guyana Rice Development Board and implemented a system a year ago. He said that the system was designed so that the Farmers Group would buy paddy from the farmers and ensure same reaches the Venezuelan market “problem free.”

The Farmers Group “took on the responsibility” over the past year to implement a system for the grading, drying and shipment of paddy from the Essequibo Coast to the John Fernandes wharf in the city, another rice farmer noted.

The group collaborated with the Ul Hack rice mill and have been renting a section of the mill’s facility in order to prepare the shipments before they leave for the city wharf.

“They  sub-let a section of their facility where we could dry, store and then ship the product to Georgetown for onward shipment to Venezuela,” a source familiar with the system told Stabroek News yesterday.

He said that the farmers group worked out the various costs associated with the arrangement and “tried to keep the prices at a stabilised cost.”

Ganga Persaud, who holds the position of Town Clerk at the Anna Regina Town Council and who had been familiar with the works of the Farmers Group, told Stabroek News yesterday that the arrangement was good for the farmers and he noted that it has created other opportunities for persons on the Essequibo Coast. “It brought out a domino effect,” he noted.

He explained that the Ul Hack rented facility has created job opportunities for machine operators and casual staff to carry out miscellaneous duties there, while noting that it was one of the “spinoffs” of the arrangement. Persaud said that the millers would traditionally transport the paddy, dry, grade and ship same but he noted that the Farmers Group has seen costs associated with the aforementioned decreasing significantly. He said that dozens of rice farmers have been benefitting from the new arrangement.

The Farmers Group, which consists of rice farmers with the requisite know-how on carrying out the operation, is working towards establishing its own facility on the Essequibo Coast, which according to an Aurora rice farmer “will bring bigger benefits to us farmers here.”

The Essequibo Coast is home to an average 65,000 population and more than 52,000 persons depend on rice as a source of income.

In May this year, the authorities signed another agreement with the Venezuelans, worth US$48M, under the PetroCaribe agreement.

The deal has seen increasing quantities of rice and paddy being exported to the neighbouring state over the past few years.

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