If the rice industry is to be saved the GRDB must stop the exploitation

Dear Editor,

I read your recent editorial on Agriculture in our country and the much needed input from central government across the spectrum for safe and meaningful development. I am very moved by your well-intentioned remarks and suggestions on the best possible way forward and it has brought to the fore my very own direct involvement in the rice industry where I have been a rice farmer for 60 years.

At this point in time I feel very threatened with all the recent developments in the rice industry.

There are no definite plans for improvement and vision for expansion, although there is an abundance of resources available. There has been no foresight for progress and success. The rice industry is also in deep economic depression, and the dynamics of the officials seem non-existent.

Leadership skills have been in cold storage for too long. The Ministry of Agriculture has not been pro-active enough to move the industry in the right and positive direction and my greatest fear is that we are faced with the same very dilemma as the sugar industry. In any sphere of activity where leadership is paramount, success will be realized, and when good stewardship wanes, failure reigns.

The Guyana Rice Development Board (GRDB) Directors need to revisit some of their decisions on the general operations of the rice industry. What they say or do affects the industry one way or the other. Their faults lie in putting the wrong persons in important administrative positions. Allegiance and patriotism are very important, but when this is done for ulterior motives this very act can be a very destructive force. The very thought of removing a highly efficient and brilliant official and replacing him/her with very, very junior staff, is a certain formula for a high powered explosion within the super structure of a system. Take for instance, a brilliant member of staff like Mrs Peters, who was reassigned to the position of deputy general manager of GRDB. Most rice millers have had to pull-up or slow-up, whenever she appears. Her firm and resolute actions were very beneficial to the rice industry. She has been a no-nonsense woman. She also treats rice farmers with respect.

Another highly vindictive act of the Board of Directors was the refusal to renew the contract of a veteran within the industry, Mr Kuldip Ragnauth, former Chief Extension Officer of GRDB. This remarkable gentleman has given incomparable service to the rice industry. He has served in this capacity with honour and resolute conviction. He interacted with every rice farmer in a very professional manner ever so often, and his organizational skills won the support and admiration of rice farmers throughout the country. He has touched the hearts of all of us and we are now left like unattended orphans, without proper parental guidance. The so-called care givers are seldom seen by us and it hurts deeply. Extension can never be the same again. What I know scientifically about rice cultivation came through his inspiration and encouragement. What he was paid to do, he selflessly delivered much, much more. His name is now etched in the history of the rice industry as the number one trailblazer and the rice farmer’s patron.

Mrs Peters’ timely disclosure in the news media of a magnificent decision to install a modem electronic seedling cleaner at Burma Rice Research Station, is a laudable venture for quality seedling production. This development is in the best interest of all stakeholders in the industry, as quality seedlings pave the way for the best reproduction of a high standard quality of the product for international markets. This has been a long overdue component for quality control in paddy seedlings output.

Another interesting intervention is that of the grading systems formulated by GRDB and put into practice by the rice millers. This particular formula is a flawed directive, and the rice farmers have been paying the price all along for such imposition. The rice millers take advantage of the farmers by using the repulsive instruments of authority from GRDB. I vehemently oppose this act of treachery and the denial of the farmers’ rights. Let me relate what takes place at the miller’s paddy hopper. A sampler is sent to take a sample for grading in the process of offloading. As the dumping commences the sampler puts his sample container on both sides of the truck’s tray and then in the middle. Shortly after this is done, the paddy grains slide down into the hopper. In taking samples this way, more wind pads get into the sample container than solid grains. Hence the farmer pays a high penalty for dockage ‒ more than he should.

Another raw deal that is handed down to the farmers is the formula used to award grades to the poor producer. When penalties have been applied for every stipulated grading factor, a percentage is used per bag to calculate each factor, which manifests in pounds per bag of paddy as penalty deductions. When this exercise is completed then the millers pay the farmers a stipulated price per grade after all deductions are made. So the millers buy from the farmers, super quality paddy. This being so, why can’t the miller pay one flat top quality price to the farmer after being made to pay penalties twice? This is a high-handed tactic to take from the farmer his hard-earned labour.

If the rice industry is to be saved, the GRDB must stop such exploitation and boost the farmers’ morale, or else we shall all go down the same dreary lane, as GuySuCo. I shall bear the banner for betterment if it entails walking one thousand miles!

Yours faithfully,

Ganga Persaud (Bobby)

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