Mismanagement costing rice farmers hundreds of millions – Seeraj

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Confusion, mismanagement and lack of priorities by the Government is frustrating rice farmers, costing them huge losses, Parliamentarian Dharamkumar Seeraj declared Thursday during the 2019 Budget Debate.

He suggested that the lack of farmer’s input in decisions at the level of keyboards, namely the Guyana Rice Development Board (GRDB) and the Drainage and Irrigation Board, is part of the problem, warning that the Government will “face the consequences” for the exclusion of the Rice Producers Association (RPA).

Seeraj heads the RPA, which was established in 1976. He knows the sector well and issued handwritten notes to press his case for the measures to relieve rice farmers.

For one, Seeraj called for a reduction in the tax on fuel, which he said will stimulate every sector of the economy, not just the agriculture sector.

He said that in the last year, the farming section contributed $3 billion in taxes on the purchase of fuel alone.

Seeraj claimed that the rice industry built a solid foundation under the former PPP administration; he said it is that foundation, along with the fact that most rice producers are private, is what is sustaining the industry in the face of mismanagement by the Government.

One of the most visible examples of this mismanagement he said was when Panama rejected more 20 containers of rice –because of the shipment was of parboiled rice and not white rice as required by Panama.

The Government has maintained that the fiasco did not lead to loss of the Panamanian market.

He laboured the point that the fiasco occurred even though the Rice Board purchases from millers and is responsible for the inspection and certification process.

Pointing to mismanagement also, he said a specialised unit to deal with pests and diseases control was disbanded and integrated into the larger research and extension service. This, he said, has meant huge losses for Essequibo farmers, who struggled with the paddy bug and the Blast fungus.

That meant a reduced yield, costing losses of over $1 billion.

Seeraj also called for the increases in land rental and drainage and irrigation charges to be rescinded. In Region Five – one of the largest rice growing regions – he said land rental increased from $1, 000 per acre to $7, 000 per acre and there was an increase in Drainage and Irrigation charges from $2, 500 from $8, 000.

As such, he suggested the Government is contributing to the increased cost for farmers.

Pointing to a lack of priority, he suggested the cooperation with Malaysia in the rice sector was misplaced since in some instances, Guyana is producing over seven metric tonnes per hectare, while the Malaysian national average is just over four metric tonnes per hectare.

In early April this year, the Ministry of Finance announced that through funding from the Islamic Development Bank, the designing a Reverse-Linkage Project with the Malaysia Agricultural Research and Development Institute (MARDI), will assist in updating Guyana’s expertise and technology in rice production.

In his Budget speech, the Finance Minister, Winston Jordan said three new high-yielding, pest-resistant and disease resistant varieties (one of which is an aromatic variety) will be tested for production in Guyana, with an expected increase in yield of 5 percent per annum, over the next three years.

He said some 1,500 farmers and 10 rice millers will be equipped with knowledge and skills in breeding and certified seed production.

In addition, Jordan said the programme will also create three new rice-based, value-added end products, namely pre-gelatinised rice powder, rice pasta and rice chiffon cakes – a nutritious-dense composite for the elderly.

“This project will support the introduction of innovative rice varieties that are more resilient and will significantly increase rice yields per acre,” Winston Jordan, the Finance Minister stated.

Further, Seeraj lamented that there has been an increased in paddy – raw material – with last figures showing 174, 000 tonnes to Mexico. He said this was a backward step for a Coalition that preaches the need for value-added agriculture.

In his Budget speech, Minister Jordan stated that the rice industry continues to make commendable strides.

He said the introduction by the Guyana Rice Development Board of a new and higher yielding variety – GRDB 15 – in time for the second crop of 2018, as well as improved practices and domestic prices is expected to result in growth of 0.2 percent in total production for the year.

An estimated 290,000 tonnes of rice were exported for the first crop this year, – some 43 per cent more than the 203,000 tonnes that were exported during the first half of 2017. That led to export earnings of US$111 million.

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