– Govt urged to take proactive approach to address issue
Following the recent confiscation of 70 metric tonnes of White Cinderella rice from Guyana by Jamaica’s Industries, Agriculture and Fisheries Ministry, there have been widespread criticisms centred at the Guyana Rice Development Board (GRDB).
As such, former Agriculture Minister Dr Leslie Ramsammy said that a concerted
effort is needed to have this issue addressed at the soonest possible time to ensure that the loopholes that may exist are corrected quickly and effectively by the Board.
He reminded that there are standard protocols for rice and paddy being exported. The GRDB maintains that a unit of inspectors must certify all rice and paddy before they are exported. This applies to all rice and paddy, no matter who are the exporters or where is the destination.
“All paddy and rice exported must be approved for export by the GRDB. The inspectors visit both the source (rice factory or warehouse) and also inspect the cargo at [the] wharf before loading. This system is intended to avoid poor quality product being exported and the system is intended to protect Guyana’s reputation as an important rice exporter,” he explained.
However, the Jamaican authorities impounded some 1575 bags of rice from
Guyana. The grains, which were exported by a local distributor, were inspected and was found to have signs of mould, clumping discolouration and wetting and as such, detained by a food storage inspector.
Dr Ramsammy said this issue warrants an explanation from the GRDB. Asked what action he would have taken if this situation had occurred while he was Minister, he said, “I would have demanded an immediate independent investigation. In addition, I would have contacted my colleague Minister in Jamaica to assure him that we will ensure that if there is any fault on our part we will take measures that it does not happen again. I would not have been silent and invisible.”
In underscoring the importance of rice to Guyana’s continued Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth, the former Minister also noted that the industry is also an important employer and opportunity for small entrepreneurs. “These small and large farmers invest more than $40 billion to $50 billion annually in Guyana’s economy and bring in between US$200 million to $300 million annually in export earnings. It is an industry that the Government must continue to support and protect.”
Dr Ramsammy also pointed out that the visibility of the industry is because of its indispensable role in GDP growth and in keeping a large section of the population employed. As such, he said that Holder must be very visible in ensuring nothing adversely affects the industry.
“Without its export market, rice will die. The Government has an obligation to be proactive and aggressive in ensuring nothing threatens the market. Jamaica is one of the important destinations for Guyana rice. This is not the first time things have gone wrong in Jamaica,” he also observed.
Dr Ramsammy recalled leading various teams on at least three occasions to Jamaica, meeting with the Ministers of Trade and Agriculture, and with Jamaican importers and regulators to ensure that these issues are addressed. “This was being proactive…I also know Minister Robert Persaud did the same. I know that Minister Holder has never done so,” he added.
He continued, “I believe that given the frequency of poor quality rice and paddy exported that the GRDB must be held accountable. Clearly, the scrutiny and oversight the Board needs to exercise have been breached. The Board of the GRDB, like their Minister (Noel Holder), has been missing in action. With the politicisation of the Board, management has been marginalised to the detriment of the industry.”
After samples of the rice shipment were sent to the division’s microbiology lab for testing, the results from the tests demonstrated that the rice contained microbial levels which are beyond the accepted limits, thus making it inapt for human consumption.
This seizure is first for the year but an epidemic of poor quality rice exiting Guyana was seen in the recent months when Panama rejected some 20 containers of rice from Guyana back in September 2018.
The GRBD said it learnt of the confiscation through media reports. Efforts were made to contact the agency responsible for the shipment and the Board is yet to receive an answer.
Rice is the second largest contributor to the Agriculture GDP of Guyana. Guyana is presently the largest paddy producer and one of the leading exporters of rice in the Caribbean region. (Samuel Sukhnandan)