Essequibo rice farmers seeking own deal with Venezuela

The Essequibo Paddy Farmers Association (EPFA) is planning to approach the Venezuelan Ambassador seeking an audience to negotiate an export deal but the association is bemoaning the length of time registration of the body is taking. Head of the EPFA, Naith Ram told Stabroek News on Sunday that while farmers have given their support to the association there has been very little groundwork done by members to formulate their own data because the work is voluntary.

He said that going to the Venezuelan Ambassador was something the association was aiming for, however this publication queried what type of information the EPFA would be taking to the ambassador. Ram noted that the association does not keep track of which of its members are owed money by millers for rice shipped to Venezuela and how much and when payments are issued. He said that many of the association’s planned ventures were reliant on registration and did not foresee any groundwork being done other than the various meetings and protests the EPFA has held. Stabroek News asked why the legal registration will have an impact since the association has been ineffective in garnering stakeholder attention. This publication was told that while the support is there, farmers are hesitant to hand over their information to yet another organization when little has been done to address the many woes faced by rice farmers.

Ram said that on Saturday the association held a meeting at Anna Regina which was attended by almost 150 farmers, however none of the invitees from the Agriculture Ministry, the Rice Producers Association (RPA) or the Guyana Rive Development Board attended.

Ram told Stabroek News that he cannot force persons operating within the association to collect information in relation to how many farmers are yet to be paid by millers and how much money is outstanding as that process can only start once the association has been legally registered.

Stabroek News asked Ram how the association plans to approach the Venezuelan authorities in relation to a new paddy export deal and why has there been no attempt to seek out other markets that are not already tied to arrangements with Guyana. He said that the proposed deal would be in addition to the rice barter arrangement already in place under the PetroCaribe deal.

Ram told Stabroek News that the association was still agitating and felt that since the Guyana Sugar Corporation was consistently provided with subventions by the state and millers were assisted in finding markets by the government, rice farmers deserved the same. Stabroek News asked Ram why the rice farmers themselves did not make strides to find markets to sell paddy and organize in addition to waiting on the government for assistance. He said that the association was thinking along those lines but once again blamed the registration process for the delay.

The association had first applied for registration last year and had to subsequently reapply recently and was told that the Minister of Labour would need to sign off on the registration.

The bureaucracy surrounding the EPFA’s registration aside, the association has had limited success in attracting stakeholders’ attention. At a recent press briefing on August 13, they revealed that they have had over 13 demonstrations none of which was attended by the Ministry, GRDB or the RPA.

Ram told Stabroek News that “we can’t just sell paddy just like that, we have to have driers and storage”. Much of the frustrations that farmers face are mirrored by millers. When Stabroek News asked since millers have consistently been delinquent in making payments why do the farmers keep selling, he said that farmers lacked storage facilities and had to move their paddy. Once paddy is sold to millers it is stored and rice is shipped at intervals. Millers subsequently have to wait to sell prior to receiving payments and have offered this reason as to why payments have been slow in the past. Rice farmers on the other hand want payments upfront. While this is problematic Ram stated that the Stabroek News was putting him in a “tight position,” and he could answer by bringing up the GuySuCo subventions once again and blaming the government for not assisting the private rice farmers.

“We are farmers it was never on our agenda to set up a rice mill, but the situation is throwing it in our way,” Ram stated. He said that the association had more options available but did not wish to disclose what the future plans were.

He said that the association’s meeting on Saturday followed two meetings held by the RPA on Thursday in Essequibo where it was revealed that despite an August 8th deadline millers have yet to pay out over $90 million to rice farmers.

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