Is it a deliberate effort to kill rice and sugar because the A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) sees these industries as People’s Progressive Party (PPP) strongholds? Or is it that APNU/AFC is clueless? They are clueless about rice and sugar, but they will not shed a tear if both rice and sugar die sooner than later. Oil will not save Guyana, although oil will be a boon together with rice and sugar. Just look at Nigeria, Venezuela, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago. They all have oil, but oil is not saving them. APNU/AFC is dead wrong that Guyana can do well without rice and sugar.
The PPP called for a resumption of talks with Venezuela for a new contract under the PetroCaribe arrangement where Guyana buys oil from Venezuela and sells rice to them. Maybe such talks could prove useless, but what is there to lose? In fact, there is much to gain. The Agriculture Minister dismissed this idea totally. But then days later, President David Granger announced that Guyana is still pursuing a rice deal with Venezuela. What is going on? Does the proverbial right hand know what the left is doing? Talk about clueless!
Having lost the Venezuelan market, the Government has done nothing to re-establish that lucrative market, nor has it pursued other markets. We heard of the Mexican market, with a lot of huffing and puffing and beating of chests by Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo, but has anyone noticed how quiet he is about the so-called breakthrough with the Mexican rice market? Incidentally, we were very active in pursuing a market in Mexico too, but realised that because of The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and high tariffs, Guyana would not find a very profitable market in Mexico.
We were already advance in talks with other Central American countries and was already sending rice and paddy to Belize, Guatemala and Nicaragua and were talking to Costa Rica and African countries. These efforts were stalled after May 2015 and APNU/AFC essentially took another approach, announcing that it is not the Government’s responsibility to look for markets, but rather it was the responsibility of the millers. The PPP Government had actively sought new markets and helped consolidate the traditional markets. We encouraged and facilitated joint and independent efforts by millers and other stakeholders.
The PPP had also called for APNU/AFC to create certain other incentives for rice, such as improving duty-free and subsidised access to equipment and supplies, such as fertilisers and paddy seeds. Not only did APNU/AFC rejected this proposal, but they had previously removed the waiver on Value Added Tax that the rice industry enjoyed before. The PPP had also called on APNU/AFC to hold discussions with banks to re-negotiate loans and for the Government to waive drainage and irrigation and lease payments for rice farmers. All of these were rejected by APNU/AFC.
Clearly, APNU/AFC has no interest in supporting the rice industry. We see further evidence in the fields. Farmers have received no support to drain and irrigate their lands. These were taken for granted when the PPP was in office. Today, farmers have been left on their own to battle the everyday challenges. Take for example the farmers in Mahaicony who were flooded because a Government-neglected dam broke and there was no one there to give support.
These signals from APNU/AFC reflect both a clueless Government and one that cares very little if rice and sugar survives. It is possible that for the first time after about 10 crops, rice production will be under 300,000 tons for the first crop for 2016. After reaching 500,000 tons in 2013 and 600,000 tons in 2014, we failed to reach the 700,000 tons in 2015 and we appear to be slipping below the 600,000 tons for 2016. Clearly, rice is on a downward trend even after just one year of APNU/AFC.
But the downward trend is across the board for agriculture. Sugar for example fell about 30 per cent below the target for the first crop of 2016. They have become secretive because they know that production overall have fallen dramatically across the board in agriculture. Incidentally, they have gone silent on Skeldon which produced just about 5000 tons of sugar in the first crop.
While agriculture and, in particular, rice and sugar, are now on a downward trend, APNU/AFC is both clueless and uncaring about the very industries that are the pillars of the economic potential of Guyana. As APNU/AFC consume themselves in the Jubilee, the pillars of the Guyanese economy are left abandoned in uncertain and turbulent waters. Sooner or later, APNU/AFC will realise it is too late to stop another period of relentless economic destruction and increasing poverty in our beautiful Guyana. (Send comments to [email protected])