The government is not protecting the rice industry and rice farmers

Dear Editor,

The Guyana Rice Producers Association (RPA), which is totally controlled by the PPP, is very silent about the poor prices given for rice farmers’ paddy ‒ a mere $3,000 per bag ‒ when farmers were expecting at least $4,000 to make ends meet.

Mr Seeraj, the appointed General Secretary of the RPA and a PPP member of the National Assembly, has said nothing about the low prices for paddy this crop. The PPP is hoping that the $500 million offered in the 2014 Budget ‒ a sweetener to rice farmers in the next crop ‒ will ease the painful loss to thousands of rice farmers. The $500 million is set aside to pay a section of the rice farmers not long after they harvest their paddy, instead of having to wait months for payment by rice millers. There is no clear proposal as to how this money will be dispensed.

Rice farmers are suspicious about the way this money will be paid to farmers, coming high on the heels of the alleged scandal concerning the high cost of shipping rice to Venezuela. The parliamentary opposition should have ensured ‒ if they were talking to rice farmers and their genuine representatives ‒ that the PPP regime gives an undertaking that there will be a transparent structure and process for the distribution of the funds.

The fund is nothing more than an election gimmick deliberately intended to win back rice farmers who deserted the PPP in large numbers, in preparation for a snap general election, rather than the local elections, long overdue. If local government elections are held this year, they will show a clear defeat for the PPP throughout Guyana and will lay the basis for the party’s removal from office. It is expected that there will be a massive vote of confidence for the combined opposition ‒ A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) and the Alliance For Change (AFC).

The RPA-Rice Action Committee, an active voice for rice farmers operating inside the Guyana Rice Producers Association, have repeatedly called for the setting up of an intervention fund to sustain the rice industry and empower rice farmers financially and democratically. The recent budgetary estimate of $500 million will be controlled by the Guyana Rice Development Board, an outfit comprising of PPPites.

There is no guarantee that all rice farmers, especially those who are openly opposed to the RPA and the PPP regime, will benefit from the fund. The Essequibo rice farmers, who broke away from the Guyana Rice Producers Association last year and formed their own organisation, are highly sceptical about the distribution of the funds to them.

The report in the Kaieteur News (April 20), exposing the exorbitant cost of shipping paddy and rice to Venezuela, is one of the many ways in which the rice farmers have been conned by the PPP regime over the years. The Rice Board and Minister of Agriculture Leslie Ramsammy, must thoroughly investigate this matter.

The Rice Action Committee has been campaigning for many years for a better deal for rice farmers and its demands have been set out below. These have been officially endorsed by the AFC and its members of parliament. APNU has not officially endorsed the demands, but the RPA Action Committee is working closely with Shadow Agricultural Minister, Dr Rupert Roopnaraine to regularise these demands and formulate the relevant legislation to make it a permanent fixture.

 Demands

The rice farmers are in danger of losing their livelihoods. This minority regime has stated over and over again that our economy operates on a free market basis. These rulers are not protecting the rice industry and rice farmers. A caring government would actively support its farmers, because food is life and rice is our staple food. This government has wasted our money and made us suffer. The rice industry is collapsing; who will save us, but ourselves?

We demand free and fair elections in our organization ‒ the Guyana Rice Producers Association (GRPA) ‒ as required under Chapter 69.01 of the Guyana Rice Producers Association Act. We also demand that an independent election commission be set up to run the elections throughout the 13 rice-growing districts in the country.

We demand the establishment of an intervention fund to protect and secure the livelihood of all rice farmers, so that there will be a fixed price for paddy and this will not be dependent on market forces. All rice farmers will be paid the same price for their paddy or rice.

We demand the re-instatement of the export facilities in Georgetown, which were put in place by the late Dr Cheddi Jagan’s government. This government sold it to a private owner, associated with BK International. Rice exporters have been deprived of an important facility which is used to ship more than 300,000 tons of rice. Rice is a major foreign currency earner. Why this neglect? Is BK International more important than us – the rice farmers?

We demand the immediate re-establishment of the Guyana Agriculture and Industrial Development Bank, with rice professionals and rice farmers sitting on the board of directors so that farmers can access loans at the lowest interest rates and not at the current commercial rate of 12 to 28 per cent.

We demand concessions on duty equal to the treatment given to the timber and the bauxite companies which get duty-free diesel and other concessions.

We demand the radical re-organisation of the Guyana Rice Development Board (GRDB) to include independent-minded and professional experts on rice, with elected rice farmers, millers, exporters and consumer organisations. They must not be ‘yes’ men or women of the Minister of Agriculture. The chairperson must be a rice farmer, who is elected by the board members.

We demand a stop being put to using millers as scapegoats for the gross mismanagement of the rice sector and agriculture by the government and its Minister of Agriculture. Rice farmers and millers must work as partners.

We demand an open and transparent account of income for the sale of our rice from government and an end to cheap propaganda and the alleged misuse of our rice money.

 Yours faithfully,

Mike Rahman

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