Promising that Essequibo rice farmers would gain from deals made in addition to overall development of the agriculture and information technology sectors, the APNU+AFC alliance took their campaign to Anna Regina yesterday with thousands turning out to hear their message.
“I believe a lot can be done to remove the rift between farmers and millers and that’s what Moses and David can bring to the fore,” Pegasus Hotel and Essequibo rice miller Robert Badal told the large crowd gathered at Damon Square, Anna Regina. In addition to Badal, the alliance unveiled two other prominent Essequibans as supporters.
Thousands poured out from villages along the Essequibo Coast with the rally being seen as the best to date for the alliance in terms of diversity.
Badal, who has always supported the AFC, on Saturday evening for the first time publicly, endorsed the APNU+AFC alliance.
He was not the only one who lamented the plight of rice farmers in the region as others including Nateram (only name), the Head of the Essequibo Paddy Farmers Association, did so as well.
“When a bag (of paddy) costs approximately $2800 and you are getting $500, you tell me, it is time for a change. We want to see an improvement in the rice industry,” Nateram said.
He charged that only a select few rice farmers whose allegiance is to the incumbent PPP/C, are given preferential treatment which see them benefitting from rice deals under the Venezuela agreement while others are forced to accept paltry sums for their grain.
Nateram, who was loudly hailed by the crowd as he spoke, emphasised that under an APNU+AFC government, there will be an overall boost to the rice sector. He told supporters that while he was enthused by the many who attended and gave him vocal support – some with intermittent shouts of “speak fuh we farmers” and “Nateram represent we well budday,” – he wanted them to use the same passion and not stay home but vote on elections day on May 11.
Rice miller Sam Bacchus who is the son of business magnate Iman Bacchus also pointed out the troubles of the rice farmers and called on the leaders of the alliance to hold true to their promises of a better life for farmers. He posited that while he was in support of any assistance to the sector, he did not believe that subsidies were the answer given global market trends.
“A partial subsidy or any subsidy is a recipe for trouble as ultimately it will cause a reduction in the price. This is because everybody will feel they can get the price that the Venezuelans are paying but in reality it is not so,” he stressed.
He said that he was tired of the situation when complaints are made to government, and instead of answers, they are told of how things were before the PPP/C’s accession into office. “I don’t want to hear about Burnham and about 28 years and if I don’t want to, much less the young people. I speak to the leaders that we are expecting you to carry out the wishes of the people,” he declared.
The alliance’s presidential candidate David Granger spoke to an already charged-up audience and noting that the speakers before him spoke from a point of vast knowledge given that they are in the business, said that a government led by him would delegate duties and areas of management to those skilled in the said disciplines.
Granger told Essequibians that his party held for them, and by extension the country, sound development policies that would see their region being given the resources necessary to foster growth in sectors they specialise in. “I want to see rich businessmen, not only Sam Bacchus, I want to see rich people in Essequibo from the lakes and every village,” he said.
To attain this goal, he said that the focus will be on youth and education and Information Communications Technology (ICT) development. This coupled with the necessary financial resources to assist farmers to garner access to markets for their produce can see cottage industries taking off and growing to bigger businesses, he said.
Granger spoke on the over 1500 children sitting the National Grade Six Examination and said that statistics show that half will fail. He said it saddens him to see that the basic needs of school children are not met and this sadness grows especially in the hinterland. Many families cannot afford to equip their children with sometimes a daily meal and many attend school famished and without school material, he said.
The opposition presidential candidate tickled the audience when he urged them to vote for the alliance as he pointed out that it was the PPP/C that gained the most votes at the 2011 elections. “Don’t do what you did in 2011 give them 12,000 votes and me 3,000…do not do it again,” he chuckled to vociferous shouts of “Not this time” and “Never,” “we learn” and “at all.”
Many in attendance told Stabroek News that they came from villages across the coast and some from as far as Pomeroon. The rally was also the best organised of the alliance meetings so far despite the lack of internet resources in the community. It started promptly at 5pm and speakers stuck to their time limits all with the support of the crowd.