Punishing rice farmers – Straight out of the Burnham pages


With the A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC), everything is now a secret. The production and export statistics of rice and sugar, for example, are now State secrets and only after many months when we are able to surreptitiously obtain information are the real numbers known. This is different from the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) days when sugar, rice and other commodity production statistics were declared on a daily basis. Recently, we reported the significant reduction of rice export. This is even as APNU/AFC boasts about new markets in Mexico and Cuba. But the truth is that the APNU/AFC lost the Venezuelan market in 2015 and now it appears they might have lost the Panama market also. The Cuban and the Mexican markets together are not even one-third of the volume previously exported to Venezuela and Panama.
The consequence is that there will be further reduction of the price farmers receive for their paddy. I challenge the Agriculture Minister, the Finance Minister, the Prime Minister and their boss, President David Granger, to guarantee farmers that prices for paddy will not be further reduced from the already low prices they were getting in the first crop. Of course, APNU/AFC will insist that rice is a Private Sector business and APNU/AFC has nothing to do with the price. But they are the ones ignoring the loss of the lucrative Venezuelan and Panama markets and at the same time boasting about the Mexico and Cuban markets.
For clarity, the Cuban market is not new. Guyanese millers had voluntarily reduced their exports to Cuba as they pursued more lucrative markets and Guyanese millers were for years already selling small volumes to Mexico. No doubt the Mexican market has expanded and for this APNU/AFC deserves credit. But the truth is that both the Cuban and Mexican markets are substantially lower-priced. They have never volunteered the prices Guyana receives for paddy sold to both Mexico and Cuba. The reason is clear – we export paddy, not rice and Guyanese millers receive less than US$250 per ton. Guyanese paddy is being marketed for about GY$2900 per bag. After discounting for shipment and other charges, Guyanese farmers are barely recovering their investments.
During the observance of the death anniversary of Forbes Burnham last month, with Moses Nagamootoo obediently by his side, President Granger vowed he will ensure that the Burnham economy and governance will be restored. It was not the first time that Granger promised the return of the Burnham legacy. He has been unequivocal that he and his Government, with the help of Rupert Roopnaraine, Nagamootoo, Ramjattan, Keith Scott and others who were brutalised by the Burnham regime, will reinstitute the Burnham legacy in Guyana. It was interesting that Ralph Ramkarran this past week highlighted the unmistakable re-emergence of Burnham, with a vengeance, courtesy of Granger and APNU/AFC.
Much focus has already been paid to the ongoing efforts by Granger and his Government on restoring party paramountcy and authoritarianism. While some attention has been paid to the Burnham-era rice and sugar disastrous policies, Granger and APNU/AFC have been surpassing Burnham in their anti-sugar and anti-rice policies. The rice farmers are in part responsible for keeping the economy from shifting into negative growth rates. They invest about GY$30 billion annually in the economy. Rice farmers are, in fact, the largest investor in Guyana’s economy. The rice farmers and their families account for about 40-50,000 people who earn their livelihood from rice. Indirectly, about 100,000 depend in some way on the rice industry.
Yet Burnham deliberately pushed rice farmers to abandon the rice industry and Guyana’s economy not only suffered, but this was one major reasons why Guyana’s poverty rate skyrocketed to between 67 and 88 per cent. Clive Thomas can attest to this truth because he was among those who studied and pronounced on the poverty rate in Guyana. Like Burnham and true to his vow, Granger is determined to keep rice farmers as poor, impoverished people. It is a vile political act catalysed by two repugnant reasons – punishing rice farmers for their continued strong support of the PPP and because Granger desperately wants to be Burnham. It is unfathomable and idiotic that Granger would want to repeat the failures of Burnham. But stupidity is not as offensive to Granger as the possibility that he cannot replicate Burnham.