Ramjattan shamelessly taking credit for rice farmers’ success

Dear Editor,
Khemraj Ramjattan went into Black Bush Polder and boasted of APNU/AFC’s success in the rice industry. He claimed that under APNU/AFC, Guyana has achieved the two highest ever production in rice in history. He ignored his Leader, David Granger, as President of Guyana, had on more than one occasion, when asked for help by rice farmers, stoutly refused any support to rice farmers, insisting that rice farmers and millers are engaged in a 100% Private Sector activity. His own AFC colleague, Noel Holder, as Minister of Agriculture, has told rice farmers and millers too many times that the rice industry is a total Private Sector responsibility. Both Granger and Holder and several of their colleagues over the last five years rejected calls from farmers for help, making the excuse that Government has no responsibility for rice. How then, can Ramjattan dare go into one of the lifelines for the rice industry, Black Bush Polder, and claim rice success for APNU/AFC?
This is the same Ramjattan that promised farmers in Black Bush Polder and other parts of Guyana they will get $9000 per bag of paddy, their production costs will be reduced, there will be better markets, better drainage and irrigation and dams for transport. On every one of these promises, they have failed miserably. It is reprehensible and shameless to now claim rice farmers’ success as theirs. It is insulting to the farmers.
What makes Ramjattan’s boast even more reprehensible is he was speaking in an area that presently is facing catastrophic losses if someone does not help them. The Government has been missing in action, even as the Ministry of Agriculture, the NDIA and the REO of Region 6 refuse to act. More than 22,000 acres of paddy are facing total or significant losses in the #52-74 NDC areas because of a severe shortage of irrigation water. Similarly, almost 28,000 acres of paddy in Black Bush Polder is under stress because of limited and rationed irrigation water. Even as Ramjattan was boasting to his fetched-in supporters, a handful of them from outside of Black Bush Polder, he assiduously refused to address these real problems that farmers face.
There are five irrigation pumps in Mibicuri and two irrigation pumps at Manarabisi. Both of the Manarabisi pumps and three of the Mibicuri pumps are at a standstill because of a lack of fuel. The old arrangements for fuel supply were discontinued by the REO. Instead of the arrangements to supply fuel by boat, an arrangement that was in place for decades, the REO gave a new contract to a company supplying with a truck. This truck’s supply fuel that is barely enough to use two pumps on a part-time basis. The consequence is that there is not enough irrigation water to meet the needs of the Black Bush farmers and none to meet the needs for the front land farmers. Compounding the problem is the lack of maintenance of the irrigation canals. The Water Users Association used to clean these and other canals at a cost of about $38M annually. Now contracts are given out for $98M for one cleaning and this is not done with the expected quality. This situation has been ongoing for weeks. Newspaper articles have described the plight of the farmers. APNU/AFC has been MIA, totally missing in action. They have held several public meetings in the area, both along the coast in the #52 to #74 areas and in Black Bush Polder, begging for votes, but never address the farmers’ plight.
These are not the only rice farmers facing serious stress with their paddy fields. Just this past week, Guyana Times highlighted the plight of the Mahaicony rice farmers. The farmers in the Mahaicony area, particularly those north of the highway, are again facing flooding with salt water because of high tides and a breached sea defence. Already, the land north of the highway, along the seashore have been lost to farming for the next two years. But the salt water that floods the area also enters the irrigation and drainage canals and encroaches into the larger farming areas to the south. Further, just this past week, Stabroek News highlighted the plight of rice farmers in the Essequibo Islands, like Wakenaam and Leguan.
APNU/AFC has reduced spending on drainage and irrigation in rice areas, reduced maintenance of dams, increased land rental and lease fee payments by between 200 and 400%, eliminated subsidies for chemicals and equipment, introduced VAT on all agricultural supplies, removed all support for quick and timely payment to farmers, lost vital high-priced markets for rice, promoted low-priced markets, reduced value-added markets. This is their legacy.
Yet, the hard work and resilience of farmers and millers to keep the industry viable have gone unrecognised by APNU/AFC. It is this hard work, with support from the PPP Government that led to a whopping increase in rice production between 2011 and 2015. Rice production increased from about 350,000 tons in 2011 to almost 640,000 tons in 2014. The target for 2015 was 700,000 tons. At the end of the first crop of 2015, under the PPP, Guyana’s rice production exceeded the target for the first crop, which was 340,000 tons and produced 400,000 tons, making the 2015 target of 700,000 a walkover. But, Guyana failed to achieve this target in 2015 and is yet to attain that goal. That is the real story of rice under APNU/AFC. The 700,000 tons which appeared as an easy target by the end of May 2015 has never been achieved. In the meanwhile, the rice production in Region 9 which was achieved under the PPP in 2013 with the emergence of Santa Fe Farms has collapsed.
Ramjattan should be ashamed to take the resilience of the farmers, take their struggles and boast of it as an achievement of his Government, especially since they so vigorously distanced themselves from the farmers.

Dr Leslie Ramsammy