Rice farmers on the Corentyne continue to face challenges in the industry which they said has “gone to the dogs” and called on the government to take immediate action to rescue it.
They lamented that the low prices they have received for paddy for the last crop and the rising cost of production were contributing to the decline in the industry. The cost for fuel is around $1,000 per gallon and farmers said their expenses can be reduced if government was to subsidize the cost.
Apart from that, fertilizer and labour costs have also increased. Farmers are now paying over $5,000 per bag for fertilizer and $4,000 per day to labourers. The cost for agricultural machinery also keeps rising, they said. Government has subsidized the fertilizer cost though and while some farmers have benefitted others said they have been paying the full price.
While the farmers enjoyed a bumper crop, “the millers took advantage of it” and paid the farmers $3,000 per bag of paddy at the last crop. During previous crops they enjoyed $4,000 and over per bag.
According to them, the reduction in the price was as a result of a glut in the market. “Obviously market prices depend on demand and supply. If the supply is greater than the demand, therefore you have to take what you get. Besides, what would the farmers do with the paddy?”
They said, “Some farmers are indebted to the bank and they have to keep going to the millers… If the government intervene and can find some better market for the millers or develop a system where they [government] buys the paddy and find its own market, that would be fine.”
On Saturday, government announced it had found a market in Panama but that will only account for five tonnes per month from September to December after which new negotiations would have to be held.
Some farmers had supplied rice to a mill at Tarlogie on the Corentyne but they have not received payment and “we need our money to reinvest.”
Farmers said too that they earned “about $45 to $48,000 per tonne at other mills. When we objected, the millers told that us that GRDB set it like that.”
They lamented, “Nobody is there for us. They are only representing the millers and things are going in favour of the millers, not the farmers, although we do all the hard work.”
They explained that “if you take a truck load of paddy to the mill and it weighs like 10 tonnes. They would remove the bad factors which would be about three tonnes, leaving seven tonnes of only the good rice but still would not pay the best price. This is advantage!”
They also said that “if we don’t have money and we take fertilizer from the mill on hold over, they would discount the money when we take our paddy and charge us interest. But they would owe us for our paddy for months but we can’t charge them interest.”
Large-scale rice farmer, Krishndat Persaud told this newspaper that he was advocating for the farmers not to plant the next crop.
He wants it to be a joint effort by the farmers so there can be a scarcity of rice. He is also asking the government to make representation to the banks on behalf of the farmers for loans to be rescheduled. As it is, he said, some farmers are barely making a profit while some are not making any at all and “a lot of farmers are going bankrupt.”
He said that in other countries farmers would force buyers to pay a high price for their products by dumping the extra grains. While that cannot be done in Guyana, farmers can apply other pressure, like stopping planting.
Another option too, he said was for the “government to assist the farmers to construct bonds to store paddy until they get the right price.”
The farmers lamented that government was not assisting in the production cost much and asked: “What’s the point of planting and not recovering…?”
Contacted, president of the Rice Producers’ Association (RPA), Leekha Rambrich told this reporter that “it is a situation where nothing can do about the price.”
He said 200,000 tonnes of paddy were being sold to the Venezuelan market while the farmers were producing 550,000 tonnes.” Guyana also has to compete with Suriname for the Jamaican market. According to him, farmers were cultivating 180,000 acres of rice but now that figure has increased to 230,000 acres.
He is aware that the low price is a “serious problem” but said “nobody catered for the excess paddy. Everybody heard rice has money and they jumped into it… They expanded on cultivation, trying to occupy a lot of land.”
They said too that ‘Ghandi’ (paddy bugs) is affecting their crops and they have to incur extra expenses to purchase drugs to spray and for labour costs.
“Sometimes one week spraying would cost $30,000. But if the bugs are plenty we have to spray twice weekly just to get rid of them so the grades would go up,” a farmer said.
Rambrich said that extension officers from the RPA and the GRDB would go out and monitor the paddy bugs. The officers as well as farmers who are trained would also use sweep nets to determine whether the amount of bugs present in the fields would warrant a spray. He advised farmers to be on the alert and to use pronto and fastac which are said to be “systematic drugs” for the bugs.
Rambrich also said that the government has invested a lot of money in the National Paddy Bug programme which is currently on stream. It is also hoped that a cause for the paddy bug would be known soon.
The farmers said that instead of developing, the industry is “deteriorating rapidly because too much of politics involved.”
Farmers whose fields are located in front of the Black Bush Polder residential and farming areas would be the last to access drainage and irrigation services. According to them, “The front land has to drain Black Bush and they [government] need to do something about that.”
They said too that farmers need more land, pointing out that most of the land owners are not farming it themselves. The owners charge a fee of $5,000 to $15,000 per acre to rent the land and out of that amount only $1,000 per acre goes to the Lands & Surveys. They said an investigation should be done so genuine farmers can benefit from the leases instead.
Further, they lamented that “Lands & Surveys don’t spend anything out of that $1,000 to maintain the infrastructure in the front land and on drainage and irrigation.”
They said too that, “Government only put emphasis on Black Bush Polder [back section] for drainage and irrigation and the maintaining of dams. The farmers in the front land are left to the mercy of God because the back land drains through there.”
The farmers said, “Someone needs to fix the infrastructure like the trenches and the dams so that we can get more ease.”
At the moment, the farmers from the front section are “not getting water and we need technical advice from Guyana Rice Development Board (GRDB). But sometimes when you search for the officers you do not find them.”
They “had a water problem but the rain came and solved that problem. Every crop the rain relieving the farmers… Last crop the irrigation trench barely had enough water.”
The farmers said though that government has dug the trench and has started to irrigate it and they are hoping that it would be enough for the crop. Some farmers were preparing to harvest around next month while the majority of the farmers would do so in about two months.
Cultivation would normally depend on the availability of water as farmers would take turns using it. Farmers whose fields are located close to the irrigation trenches would get first.
Government would provide pumps to assist the farmers who said “now is the time for government to start servicing the pumps to ensure they are working properly. Not when the farmers badly need the water, then the pumps would break and they have to stop and service them.”
The farmers said too that the pumps would not work to the full capacity because the diesel was never enough. Rambrich agreed that the irrigation problem is a “serious setback.” He said Regional Chairman, David Armogan is out of the country and that a senior regional official is “giving the farmers a hard time.”
He said the farmers are planning to picket the official’s office soon as he had refused to start the pumps on time, resulting in most of the fields being out of water.
He said too that the region was told that there is no fuel and that there was only one shipment of fuel since July. According to Rambrich, the official wants farmers to use water from the drainage trench but it is not adequate.