Essequibo Coast miller says rice board to blame for delay in pay-outs to farmers

Essequibo Coast miller Wazir Hussein says that he is being unfairly blamed for the payments owed to rice farmers, which is due to the slow pay-out of cash from the Guyana Rice Development Board (GRDB) to millers. 

During an outreach in Region Two, Minister of Agriculture Noel Holder recently condemned the delay in payments to rice farmers by millers on the Essequibo Coast and dubbed it as a “clear demonstration of unfair business practices.”

During the outreach, Essequibo Paddy Producers Association head Naith Ram made a plea for help. Ram said he was seeking intervention from the ministry on behalf of Essequibo Coast rice farmers, who are being held to ransom by many millers, including Hussein, who is one of the largest millers.

The Department of Public Information (DPI) reported Ram as saying that rice farmers who supplied paddy to Hussain for the first crop of this year were yet to receive any payments, which has resulted in many of the farmers having to either stop cultivating or scale back their operations significantly.

Because of the fear of being victimised by other millers, farmers are reluctant to take the ones that owe them to court, despite them violating the Rice Factories Act. “We have to devise another system – we have to take some firm action. How can a farmer who is not being paid sustain his family? We have to do something to help the situation in Region Two,” the DPI report quoted Ram as saying.

It also reported Ram as saying that the current situation is negatively affecting the rice industry and the livelihood of all the rice farmers in the area, who are “helpless in the face of these actions on the part of errant millers.”

The report further noted that figures released by the Guyana Rice Development Board (GRDB) confirm that the millers owe farmers in excess of $132 million for paddy that was supplied for the first crop and that Hussain owes 97% of the figure.

However, Hussein told Stabroek News that the situation has been blown out of proportion and he is being blamed for an issue that stems from the GRDB. He explained that currently he is owed US$572,000 for rice that was sent to Panama since March.

Stabroek News also saw documentation that confirmed he is still owed the amount he claims.

“We had begged them [GRDB] for 50% of the money to just pay off farmers since March and they are turning it on us but they are not showing that they owe for number 22 contract since March and we are not getting it,” Hussein explained.

He admitted that he owes between 35 and 40 farmers but only to the tune of $55 million and not what is being claimed.

“It is unfair on me for them to do this. How can we send rice so long to Panama and still not get paid and they turning the news differently. That is not right and it shouldn’t be political. Fair is fair. We are not politicians, we are fair people. We did owe but we didn’t owe all of the money they are claiming. They have farmers showing that we are bad people but that is not true. We are business people since 25 years ago,” Hussein added.

He also noted that despite claims, he does not owe Ram any money, which he was able to prove via his records, which show that the man was paid since March.

Hussein also noted that the millers have sent letters to the GRDB requesting their payments or information about their payments several times, with the most recent being yesterday, all without any response.

Responding to the pleas of the farmers, the DPI report said that Holder told them that the millers must not be allowed to mistreat them and withhold payments.

“We have many millers faulting the Board for them not being able to pay farmers, [and] more recently for rice shipped to Panama. The Panama deal is not like other arrangements millers have with other buyers – it is a government to government arrangement. The GRDB approached millers explaining that the Panama market offers 30% more for the rice, but like any government to government arrangement, funds take a little longer to process,” the report quoted Holder saying.

It added that Ram suggested that the GRDB should explore the option of withholding milling licences to defaulting millers, to which Holder agreed.

“Minister Holder in responding to Mr. Ram’s suggestion, stated that if millers are not treating the farmers as they should, GRDB can indeed explore withholding milling licenses as the Rice Factories Act, under which all mills operate, identifies the Rice Board as the licensing and regulatory body,” the report added.

“However, this has to be a Board policy. Mr. Ram, as a member of the GRDB Board of Directors, you can bring that suggestion to the table. The Minister cannot make that decision. It has to be a decision of the Board,” the report quoted Holder saying.  

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