MMA rent hikes vital to prevent another GuySuCo – Agri Minister

Minister of Agriculture, Noel Holder yesterday said that the increase in land rates is necessary to avoid the Mahaica, Mahaicony, Abary-Agriculture Development Authority (MMA-ADA) from “becoming another GuySuCo”.

Hundreds of farmers protested against the hikes on Tuesday while the MMA remained silent.

A press release from the Ministry of Agriculture yesterday described the protest by cash crop, rice and cattle farmers as “unfortunate”.

The Ministry argued that “For the past 18 years farmers were required to pay $2,500 per acre annually despite the increasing cost of material and supplies in the provision of D&I [Drainage and Irrigation] services by the MMA/ADA”. 

Despite the low cost for land and drainage and irrigation services provided by the state, the statement said that some farmers were not even keeping their end of the agreement and were not paying their lease rates as stipulated by the MMA-ADA Act.

The statement went on to say that because some of the farmers were not paying their rent the authority was hindered from executing planned works such as the completion of the MMA phases two and three. The Agriculture Ministry recently announced that it was proceeding with the long-awaited phase 2 of the MMA scheme which will require a large sum. The Ministry said that the MMA-ADA received $357M in the 2017 budget as the existing drainage and irrigation and land rent charges will not be enough to meet its operating costs.

Citing the two vandalized pumps at Trafalgar, West Berbice some two years ago, the statement noted that the authority was unable to have the structures repaired due to a lack of funds. As such, Central Government was required to provide a subvention to offset the expenses in 2015 after several communities were heavily inundated.

As such, the statement related that Holder remains adamant that the increase in MMA rates is “not an unfair move but one which is necessary to finance the services being provided by the authority to ensure that it doesn’t become another GuySuCo draining the country’s coffers.”

Noting that the MMA is tasked with providing drainage and irrigation services within areas such as Abary/ Berbice, Abary/ Mahaicony and Mahaica/ Mahaicony, the statement said  “The budgetary appropriations received for D&I services in these blocks cannot offset the currently high cost for maintenance of its structures… As such the MMA has faced serious challenges in meeting the expenditure required to provide these critical services since the charges fixed were too low”.

It added that while drainage and irrigation charges have remained the same for almost two decades, the cost for fuel, spares for machinery, equipment, building materials and wages for the Authority’s workers have escalated over the years. The statement also said that the benefits of the extensive infrastructural and other works that are provided to the areas by the authority is evident in the fact that the production in the areas has doubled.

“Unlike the other blocks, those between the Mahaica and Mahaicony rivers do not pay for D&I services and it is now proposed that charges be instituted… Indeed the MMA area now produces approximately half the national rice production and its cattle population is considerably larger than the other regions,” the statement said. Holder added that it is only fair that farmers pay the economic cost of the services that are being provided.

While at the protest on Tuesday, farmers had related to Stabroek News that for some areas the fees had been increased to a whopping $15,000. However, Stabroek News had reported that the highest new fee that was proposed was $8,000 and the lowest was $1,000, and the Ministry’s statement yesterday confirmed this.  The increased rates are as follows:

In terms of land rent charges for pasturage, the statement related that it was fixed at $1,000 per acre per annum. “The Rice Farmers (Security of Tenure) Act Chap. 69:02 sets out the guidelines for basic rental and are expressed in bags (140llb) per acre which is five percent of the quantity of paddy produced in one two-crop year,” the statement said.

It explained that since the national average of rice yield was 35 bags per acre per crop then 5% of the yields (by two crops per year) would be equivalent to 3.5 bags. As such, using $2,000 per bag would give a sum of $7,000 per acre ($583 per month).

It went on to state that since the rent that livestock farmers are asked to pay for the pasture is 20% of the rent for rice lands, they will be required to pay $1,400 per acre annually or $117 per month.

“These rates are not exorbitant and yet some farmers are of the view that they should not pay the increased rates being asked to enable the MMA to provide effective drainage and irrigation services which are critical for development to take place,” Holder added.

While the farmers and Rice Producers Association General Secretary Dharamkumar Seeraj had contended on the picket lines that no consultations were done with the relevant stakeholders, the statement said that last Thursday, Holder led a team on an outreach exercise to the areas where discussions were held on a number of issues “with the increase in land rates taking centre stage.”

“The issue was addressed, with farmers only then understanding the fees being asked to pay each month by the MMA/ADA. The Ministry of Agriculture is calling on farmers to be responsible in their judgement and for all players to work together in the best interest of the sector,” the statement added.