Mahaicony rice farmers facing challenges

renew call for subsidies, Govt assistance
… “We need some help to go back into the field” – rice farmers

BY SHEMUEL FANFAIR

With the collapse of the lucrative PetroCaribe (rice for oil) Venezuela deal last year, the challenges faced within the rice industry have been significant. With this in mind, farmers have reiterated calls for the deal to return as it would likely increase their earnings in price per bag of paddy.

Women suffering as a result of the rice crisis
Women suffering as a result of the rice crisis

On Thursday, rice farmers of Branch Road, Mahaicony, Region Five (Mahaica-Berbice) told Guyana Times that for the past few crops, they have not been able to achieve any substantial profits from the industry. Astraf and his wife, Shamila Ally said that they lost “a lot” since the deal was abruptly ended.

Rice farmers Shamila Ally, Shrawan Kumar, Deonarine Sesnarine, Astraf Ally
Rice farmers Shamila Ally, Shrawan Kumar, Deonarine Sesnarine, Astraf Ally

“We bust a lot from that and the [miller] owe we a lot. For 2014, we didn’t get paid… then we get to turn over lil bit and we tek loan,” Mrs Ally explained. She also stated that while some payments have been paid by rice mills in the area, they still owed we.”
Her husband pointed out that it was because of his financial woes that his wife was forced to help in his operations. He stated further that he cannot afford to employ other workmen.
Another farmer, Deonarine Sasenarine said he would usually plant 150 acres but will not plant any for the upcoming crop because of the low prices in the industry.
At present, rice farmers are receiving between $1800 and $2000 per bag of paddy and many have said that this is not profitable.
Meanwhile, Kevil Vox, who has planted rice for over 30 years, called on Government to provide assistance for fertiliser and seed paddy. It was explained that the dry weather patterns damaged much of the acreage which would hamper the ability for farmers to obtain seed paddy to go in the next crop.
To this end, many farmers said that Agriculture Minister Noel Holder should meet with them to address their concerns.
Meanwhile, the family members of some farmers also told this publication that Government subsidies on fertilisers and equipment are necessary for their survival.
“We need a better price, we need some help to go back into the field, because right now it very hard on farmers, right now the millers owe we a set of money and we can’t go back into the field,” noted Tajwantie Ramotar.
She also noted that children are being affected.
“It affect de children dem very bad because [they can’t go to school] and you need money to send them…[they] got exam to write and you got to get money to buy the text books,” Ramotar further explained.
“We need the President to look into this, right now we nah get no proper price – $2000 a bag of paddy can’t pay, you got to pay operator, and [workers] to fetch your paddy,” noted Feroza Hussein.
“We need some help to go back into the field and we need we money to…” was the call they echoed to Agriculture Minister Noel Holder.
“Rice farmer ah feed this country and they supposed to stand up for [us]… we need help man, this can’t work out,” another woman shouted.
In a recent presentation to the National Assembly, shadow Finance Minister Irfaan Ali called for the removal of taxes and duties on fuel for the industry, and the removal of all taxes and duties on machinery, equipment and spares.
Though the PetroCaribe deal was due for expiration in November of 2015, Venezuela axed the rice deal months before the official due date. However, Government had said in March that the Spanish-speaking nation may still be purchasing Guyana’s rice, but through neighbouring Suriname.
The PetroCaribe deal was sealed by then President Bharrat Jagdeo and late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. Under this deal, Guyana was required to pay upfront a percentage of the cost of fuel acquired from Venezuela, with the balance, which was placed in the PetroCaribe Fund at the Bank of Guyana, being treated as a loan repayable over 23 years, with a two-year grace period and two per cent interest.