Rice millers should not be allowed to operate like a cartel

Dear Editor,

I write to acknowledge a comprehensive response to my letter captioned ‘Rice farmers are being exploited by the millers’ dated May 29, 2017 by the Guyana Rice Development Board (GRDB). I would also like to thank Mr Jinnah Rahaman for his very strong and forthright moral support as he was once a part of the directorate of the said state agency, and very vociferous too while being a sitting member of that very board.

The GRDB response and the visitation by personnel less than three hours after the publication of my letter to discuss its contents, is no panacea for the farmers’ plight with the millers and GRBD. What the GRDB letter did do was reveal its true responsibilities to the rice farming communities. There are some interesting disclosures that beckon for the intervention of central government through the Ministry of Agriculture. I have to tell my government that they must not sit and allow the rice millers of this country to operate like a cartel; they must also stop appointing GRDB board members unilaterally. This kind of input is harming the rice industry in a far-reaching way. We who till the soil, sow the seeds, and nurture and harvest the rice crops must always have access in terms of the appointment of GRDB’s board members. There is revulsion for the above system; we need resourceful and wise board members, and we have to remove all the over seventy and going on eighty-year-olds who are not supposed to be there any longer.

The answer to what was meant by pre-arranged grades has its genesis in the corporate world, and in most business entities the boss or CEO meets with the senior staff to discuss the day’s activities. In our case the millers meet with the grader who is his paid servant and often subservient to the command of his salary.

As the crop progressed many of the millers often told the grader not to issue extra ‘A’ or ‘B’ grades any more, and the humble paid servant would have to do the boss’s bidding. This has been our fate for a long time. There was one miller who was a very cunning and clever businessman. It was he who owed rice farmers hundreds of millions of dollars. He got his licence suspended and then stealthily got the said rice farmers to picket the GRDB for doing so, since they said this was causing the miller not to pay them their monies. Those farmers that the GRDB Communications Clerk mentioned were duped into going against their interest.

Calibration of the factory electronic scales at the beginning of the crop by the Guyana National Bureau of Standards can never be good enough, because vibrations can also cause anything to shift. The millers’ scales need checking as often as is practicable. Too much is at stake for negligence; we have to let the Director of the Bureau of Standards know that she has a national responsibility on her hands. A failure to listen to the rice farmers constitutes blatant disregard.

A dedicated, humble rice farmer from Berbice whom I encountered took one load of his harvested paddy to a certain miller with the expectation of selling his produce. He went through all the formalities as required by the said miller, namely, weighing, sampling and grading. But he was not satisfied with the resultant grade and opted to take his paddy to another rice mill in the same region. The identical process followed and he found his paddy grade compatible, so the sale of his paddy became an agreed deal. Documents were then issued to him. On checking his net weight, to his consternation the first miller had short-weighed him by 20 bags of paddy on his scales.

The act of producing rice to keep a whole nation well fed should be commended and seen as benevolent. Instead rice farmers are being treated with disdain; they are being robbed, insulted and viewed with suspicion. We willingly give all it takes to be a good and industrious class of people, and to ask us for more is asking us for our blood. I have personally given so much of myself, but I am proud to be a farmer and I shall continue to be so until the very last drop of my blood!

Yours faithfully,

Ganga Persaud