Essequibo rice farmers lobby for paddy price hike

–protest plan on back burner

Essequibo rice farmers want more for their paddy in the second crop and are reorganising so that the government will take their issues seriously.

Chairman of the Essequibo Paddy Farmers Association (EPFA), Naitchram (only name) told Stabroek News that currently farmers are reaping.

“Lots of us are out in our fields… It is only when we take to the street [that] the minister or any of the higher up [pay attention],” he said. He added that farmers had to show more tact in this second crop and they needed to come prepared with all their grievances.

Farmers want to see an increase in the prices received for paddy and since Guyana has renewed its US$130 million rice agreement with Venezuela, they believe that it’s possible, Naitchram said.

He pointed out that the Venezuelan rice agreement was moving along smoothly and that the same paddy which the authorities had said was of poor quality, was being exported to Venezuela as part of the arrangement.

Naitchram said farmers were made aware through the Guyana Rice Development Board (GRDB) that the best grade of paddy would fetch no less than $4,000 per bag during the second crop. He said that historically paddy was sold for US$420 per tonne. “Three years ago we were selling to Venezuela at US$420 and getting $4000 for a bag of paddy, now the price has gone up to US$520 and millers aren’t paying more for paddy,” he stated.

Naitchram said the GRDB had complained that 60 per cent of the paddy harvested during the first crop was not up to the standard needed to export. However, “that is the same paddy that they are shipping to Venezuela, so we have to ask how and what did the millers do to get this paddy… to reach that standard? They didn’t do anything. They said that it was sample grade, but that is just what they wanted to tell us the farmers. That is the same grade that they are shipping right now to Venezuela.”

He said the EPFA had sought answers, but had not received any. He said knowing what happened last crop farmers were better prepared this year. “This crop I know is going to be better quality. We put mechanisms in place to make sure that this crop is better. We knew about the paddy bug and we should be seeing a better yield,” he said.

Naitchram said that since the various issues with the last crop and the contention over prices paid to farmers by millers, farmers had to ensure that they sowed, reaped and sold a higher quality product. That way, no excuses could be made by millers or the government when it was time for payment to be made.

The EPFA chairman stated that prior to the second harvest commencing, he had contacted the GRDB and asked for a list to be compiled indicating the prices the various mills were willing to buy paddy for. “Farmers could use a list so we know who is buying and for how much, this helps when we are going to sell to compare the mills,” he said.

He told Stabroek News that “this relationship between millers and the government isn’t benefiting the farmers…” He added that while on Thursday famers had originally intended to protest, they now had to backtrack and comprehensively sort out their various grievances. He had told this publication previously that a revision of the Factory Act was something farmers would continue to call for as well as more training and investigations by the GRDB into the current paddy grading system.

Naitchram said that for the second crop, farmers didn’t want to give the GRDB, the Rice Producers Association (RPA) and the ministry the opportunity to side-line them. So instead they would try to go on the local television channel and have a live call in programme to compile further issues.

“Farmers are busy, they are spraying, we don’t want to make rash decisions…,” he stressed. “We can have a live call in programme and reach the farmers and talk about what are the things we need to happen.”

He said too that while the minister has not responded to a letter sent since June he did not want to give up on speaking with him. “When we had gone to parliament we were told to go through the right channels and that’s what we are doing now,” Naitchram said. Moving forward, farmers need to act collectively to ensure that as the industry prospered they benefited, he added.

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