It is evident that in the face of the tremendous challenges ahead, and continuous protest from the rice farmers, the government needs to work for more national cohesion and national unity. On Friday, once again rice farmers on the Essequibo Coast took to the road in protest for paddy payment for the last crop. Hundreds of farmers and their families demanded that the government fulfil its promises and see that millers pay them urgently, as they cannot live on promises.
The reality is that rough times are ahead; harvesting of the new Spring crop will begin within two weeks and the farmers are asking what has become of the millions of dollars which were loaned to the millers to pay them off some months ago. Many farmers who have grown rice their entire lives, find themselves in an unprecedented financial situation. Farmers know that politics is not the answer to their problem.
Over the years, there has been a general reluctance by millers to pay farmers promptly for their produce. Government has claimed that there is a large export market for farmers’ paddy and our rice, but the big question is, why are the farmers not being paid crop after crop, when they have delivered their paddy to the millers? Rice-farming in general employs nearly half of the Essequibo Coast’s total workforce and is an integral part of Guyana’s economy, culture and history.
Mismanagement of the rice industry has shaken confidence in rice farmers; the current problem of payment has had more consequences for the rice farmers than the millers. The problem faced by rice farmers has been compounded by the current government and millers’ ill-conceived prompt payment scheme, which has failed. Farmers are facing increasing hardship that began long before the increasing monopolies held by big millers who have set about miring farmers in a web of debt by not paying them.
The nightmare farmers now face is growing debt, while trying to cover daily expenses. They are clinging to the false hope offered by an incompetent Ministry of Agriculture and the Guyana Rice Development Board which have neither the intent nor the ability to oversee their payment. Their children will be pulled from school, medical expenses skipped, belts tightened around the dinner table and any possible investment to improve their lives abandoned.