Plight of rice farmers

Rice farmers from Region Five (Mahaica-Berbice) gathered outside of the Agriculture Ministry on Wednesday where they vented frustrations over the 2017 hikes, for a multitude of reasons. The Agriculture Ministry announced the increase of land rent from 00 to ,000 per acre, which represented a 600 per cent increase and land rates from 00 to 00. MMA had stated that the fee is implemented so that it can take care of drainage and irrigation. However, the resounding cry from the farmers remains the same; they simply cannot afford the increases, they have also pointed to the fact that if implemented, the increases will also impact negatively on future generations.

Those gathered acknowledged that they will now face the increase and many have lamented that it may be better for the Government to take back the lands as it is simply not feasible, particularly with the rising cost of living. Those affected are also claiming that the Agriculture Minister has repeatedly ignored their calls for dialogue.

Despite ongoing protests, Government has maintained that the increases for land rental and drainage and irrigation services, is not exorbitant. In fact they had justified the cumulative increases based on the monthly price per acre. Among the changes include new drainage and irrigation charges for profit to Rosignol village moving from $2500 per year to $8000 per year, representing a $5500 increase. Additionally, farm lands that fall in the Mahaicony/Abary Rice Development category will see farmers now paying $7000 over $1241 from last year’s fees. The cost per month of former amounts to $666 per month while the latter accrues $583.

These latest increases come against the backdrop of farmers receiving reduced earnings for their paddy following the end of the lucrative PetroCaribe (rice for oil) deal between Guyana and Venezuela. The deal, which saw rice farmers receiving premium prices for their produce, was cancelled by the Bolivarian Republic in 2015 amid increasing tensions between the two countries. Since then, many rice farmers, especially those in Region Five (Demerara-Mahaica) have reiterated calls for Government to implement various subsidies, including fuel and heavy-duty equipment, to assist them in remaining in the field to maintain their livelihood. The farmers made it known that while they are receiving $1300 for a bag of paddy, it was noted that manure amounts to $1000 per bag.

In the wake of the widespread protest action, Parliamentarian Dharamkumar Seeraj tabled a motion in the National Assembly to reverse increases. The motion stated that Guyana’s economy is in no significant way based on the contributions of the agriculture sector, which sustains the entire Guyanese population and provides economic activities and jobs for thousands of households and communities. Seeraj, who is also the General Secretary of the Rice Producers Association (RPA), added that Government’s recent unilaterally imposed hike in land rent and other charges to farmers in the MMA/ADA has resulted in some instances in increases that are in excess of 600 per cent. It is now left for us to see what will come out of this and if the Government will heed the concerns of the Rice farmers.

Support for the farmers’ cause has been pouring in since announcement of the draconian charges in January. The hike imposed on the farming population should be condemned in the strongest possible terms as farming is the main economic activity in the region; in fact it is unconscionable that the Government would want to put additional burdens on a segment of the population that has no other means of earning a livelihood apart from depending on agriculture. Government therefore has to curtail its high-handed approach in dealing with farmers whose concerns are genuine and legitimate as this decision will have repercussions that will reverberate.