Give the sugar workers land at Wales and Burma an infusion of cash and more attention for proper paddy seedling production

Dear Editor,

The curtain has been drawn and the stage is boldly set to go into full-time paddy production at the now abandoned Wales Sugar Plantation. The lands that have been converted by the Ministry of Agriculture for the sole purpose of propagating new strains of seed paddy through state agency GRDB and state institution , the Burma Rice Research Station, is another government ploy to go into paddy production in order to fully occupy the vast unutilised cane lands at Wales Estate. The whole concept is for the state to go into competition with the country’s peasant rice farmers.

State planners and economic advisors are perceived to be smart thinkers, but in the area of simple foresight and greater wisdom, they have failed horribly. Their specialized training should have enabled them to understand that if sugar failed why then invest in another limping industry, because rice is definitely on the decline. But then if the mission is to destroy the livelihood of the rice farmers of our country, it will take full effect sooner rather than later.

The Burma Rice Research Station has a vast expanse of fertile lands – 500 acres or more, well laid out for experimental purposes. It also has a full complement of useful infrastructure, well placed for modern scientific research operations. But GRDB must admit of course that the Burma Research Station is restricted from a budgetary point of view, and has become cash strapped. Research and other technical personnel have become fewer than they used to be, and the general semi-skilled and un-skilled labour force is far too limited. The Burma Rice Research Station is in a quandary because of foolhardiness.

There has to be optimum use of all available land space and proper focus on plots that are designated for the propagation of seed paddy for farmers. We can never deny reality: that what you paid for, is what you will get. Burma research does not have the necessary financial resources to do its work uniformly. Let’s be even more realistic: remuneration for every category of worker at this institution needs to be upgraded, so as to encourage better performance. In the end who will suffer? The poor rice farmers.

The above is an overview of what we have and it not being properly utilized. But then we want to undertake a similar project on lands bereft of all things to do proper seedling production. Land that has been growing sugar cane for almost its entire existence, can be very difficult and expensive to convert to rice cultivation. Rice is almost totally aquatic by nature, and does not do well on lands that are not level enough for water saturation. Sugar cane land surfaces are made up of rows of elevated beds, drains, dams and deep canals. For rice cultivation, the elevated lands must be flattened and drains and canals must be filled appropriately, and this is a very costly venture in which to invest taxpayer’s money. Our country cannot afford to go into risky investment at this particular juncture.

I would like to ask GRDB Board of Directors one salient question, and that is, why decentralize paddy seedling production when all the Burma Rice Research Station needs is an infusion of cash and more attention? For several crops, rice farmers have been unable to obtain basic seedlings, because this particular quality of seedling has never been in the right quantity to satisfy the needs of a greater number of rice farmers. On various occasions all seed paddy stocks had become completely exhausted, which more often than not sent rice farmers into a frenzy looking for same, only to be exploited by fellow rice farmers with very poor quality at exorbitant prices. It appears as though all is well at the Burma Research Station. But there are policy constraints and these are under wraps by the GRDB Board of Directors where bureaucracy is to the fore.

To avoid a debacle in paddy cultivation at Wales Estate why can’t central government be generous and by way of resolution, give the sugar workers of that particular abandoned sugar plantation, titled parcels of lands, so that they can contrive to earn a decent livelihood. The land can be zoned for different crops and this will bring some semblance of trust, peace and satisfaction in all directions. I am really concerned about the daily plight of our brothers and sisters of Wales Estate. They don’t deserve to be left financially broke and stranded without a proper source of income.

In a recent Stabroek editorial, the editor quotes the statistics of GRDB chief extension officer as vouching that this autumn crop has seen an increase in the acreage of rice cultivation. This declaration is erroneous, and cannot stand up to scrutiny. Because of incessant rainfall countrywide, lots of rice farmers did not put in a crop, and those who were willing to do it, had the financial resources to do so. The main reason for leaving rice lands idle, is the very low prices paid for paddy.

I have the deepest appreciation and the highest regards for Mr Ragnauth’s principled services to the country’s rice farmers. He understands the language and the feelings of the farmers; he is the most popular of the extension personnel. He has always been very humble to everyone and he is a university graduate whose services could be equated to those of late production manager of GRDB Mr C P Kennard. However, I feel that I should caution him on his source of information to prepare his all-time sensitive reports. Statistical information must come from the farmer’s mouth and the proof of his fields. Lastly when ‘rearguards’ have emerged to become heads of government agencies and government institutions a once honourable man can be forced to do the unexpected.

If we fail to listen we will fail to learn, and if we fail to learn, we will all be consumed.

Yours faithfully,

Ganga Persaud

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