The El Niño dry weather has resulted in a drastic decline in rice cultivation this year, especially in Leguan and the Essequibo Coast and in the Mahaica, Mahaicony and Abary creeks.
President of the Rice Producers Association (RPA) Leekha Rambrich told Stabroek News in an interview that the dry condition has also resulted in poor yields for other farmers around the country. And as if that was not enough, the rains came earlier than expected, plunging them into further woes.
The farmers were about to enjoy the dry weather to harvest their crop but the rain did more damage. They were forced to cut early.
It also caused the dams to be deplorable, making it difficult for farmers to traverse with their paddy. The conditions in the fields were also bad. However, the weather did well for the farmers who were unable to cultivate the last crop due to the unavailability of water.
On the Essequibo Coast and Leguan areas, where farmers were unable to plant last crop, some of the cultivation is about 60 days old already and the crop seems promising for them.
But for the other regions where harvesting was going on, the land conditions were very bad and this caused a reduction in cultivation.
In Region Six, about 50% of the land has been cultivated for this crop; a total of 32,000 acres out of the 65,000 acres of land.
Rambrich said too that coupled with El Niño, some of the front lands in the Corentyne areas were also affected by salt water intrusion. That impacted severely on the last spring crop, with farmers losing over 10,000 acres of rice while some had low yields.
Venezuelan market Rambrich said the drop in the rice prices was also due to the loss in the “high priced” Venezuelan market.
“In the initial stage of that market, 60% of the rice from Guyana was going there. This caused a lot of farmers to invest in rice and so the cultivation expanded,” he told this newspaper.
“Eventually, Venezuela was taking 30% of rice from Guyana and the other 30% was being sold to Europe at world market price. The 30% of rice that was going to the high price market could have cushioned the low price.”
He said too that “farmers were enjoying a price of $3,500 to $4,000 per bag of paddy but when Venezuela pulled out the farmers had to contend with the world market price alone, which dropped to about $2,100 per bag and that was what triggered the problem.” Some farmers have received $1,500 to $2,200 per bag of paddy.
Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo had travelled to Mexico to secure a market for rice but Rambrich pointed out that the Mexicans only need paddy.
At present, Guyana is in the process of securing phytosanitary requirements to export to Mexico through an agent there.
“Then again,” he said, “to sell the paddy to Mexico they have to be competitive with the US, which is currently exporting …to Mexico at US$240 per tonne.”
According to him, “If Guyana goes into Mexico, it would have to pay the US$9 levy. We cannot sell paddy to Mexico at US$230. It would only be profitable if it is sold at US$280 per tonne.”
He stated that the price on the Venezuelan market was US$400 per tonne and above. “I don’t see the Mexican market to be feasible for paddy. For rice, it can be, but not for paddy,” he noted.
“Venezuela was the preferential market and we were having preferential price with Venezuela.”
He said too that because of the high cost of production and the low price for rice that farmers are earning, they are unable to repay their loans and even to “go back to the fields.”
He advised the farmers: “Nobody is going to be your godfather. The plan is to minimize your cost and try to have better yielding paddy.”
The RPA head pointed out that at present the industry is falling and farmers are suffering because of the “hardships that are coming with it. Government needs to cushion the industry and when it develops then they can look for extra charges.”
He called on the government to intervene by bringing some relief to farmers, such as by providing concessions for fertilizer, duty-free fuel, a waiver on rates and taxes and reducing the prices for agricultural spares.
He also criticized the administration for introducing VAT on all agricultural spares at such a critical time for the rice industry and called for it to be removed.
He was disappointed that government did not consider the nine-point plan that the opposition People’s Progressive Party had presented to Parliament, given the difficult circumstances and the financial difficulties that the farmers are facing.
The motion had sought, among other things:
– to resume negotiations with the Government of Venezuela with the intention of selling rice and paddy to that country;
– to immediately remove all forms of taxes and duties on fuel for the industry;
– to remove all taxes and duties on inputs for the industry including machinery, equipment and spares;
– to lay supplementary provisions in the National Assembly to provide financial support to farmers in order to aid in the purchase of seed paddy and fertilizers.
Nagamootoo, who closed the debate on the motion on behalf of the government, had said they would look at the conditions under which fuel would receive concession and would appeal to the bankers to render ‘soften’ terms of payments.
He had said too that the government through the GRDB is prepared to import fertilizer so that it would be available to farmers at the lowest possible price.
The Prime Minister said government would pursue aggressive marketing strategies to help the farmers.
Rambrich had taken the lead role in cultivating over 100 acres of aromatic rice. He said that after displaying it on the shelves of supermarkets with his name, the GRDB, “put a stop on me to market it. I don’t know if there was a personal problem or what…”
The GRDB had bred and produced the aromatic variety and with a new GRDB board now in place, he said, the rice is being promoted and the variety is picking up again.
Rambrich believes the GRDB stopped him because “they think I would make a lot of money.” He still plants it on a smaller scale though.
The rice is now being sold by Nand Persaud and Company and he hopes that by the end of the year he too “would be able to put it back on the market.”
Currently, 2,000 acres of the aromatic rice are under cultivation around the country.