Rice prospects

Even as rice prices are predicted to rise later this year, because of challenges in production in some of the major rice producing and consuming nations – such as Pakistan, China and India, news was received that the Government will soon move to the International Chamber of Arbitration in France to recover over $1 billion owed by the Government of Panama to the Guyana Rice Development Board (GRDB) for rice sold to the country. This particular debt was created during the last APNU/AFC regime, when PM Moses Nagamootoo announced quite ostentatiously that he had renegotiated the rice market with Panama after there were some issues with a prior shipment. Millers have taken the GRDB to court to recover their money.
There is also the matter of private miller Nand Persaud shipping 15,000 tons of rice to Cuba back in 2017, for which no payment has been made, notwithstanding the efforts of the miller’s Managing Director, who personally went to Cuba to resolve the matter. At the time of the shipments, we had just suffered the loss of the Venezuelan market for 200,000+ tonnes of rice and paddy annually. The Venezuelans cancelled their purchases when the Exxon oil strike was announced in 2015, and that was a serious body- blow to both our rice industry and the nation for
three reasons. Firstly, there was the size of that market – absorbing fully one-third of our exports. Secondly, there was the price of US$780/tonne, which was almost double that of the world market price. Third, the terms of payment were tied to the PetroCaribe Initiative, via which we were receiving oil at extremely concessionary terms. The arrangement became fundamentally a barter arrangement that meant we did not have to pay for oil in foreign currency (US dollars), but to our own farmers in Guyana dollars, which we print, but which is not convertible on the forex market.
Be that as it may, against the backdrop of the APNU/AFC regime’s failure to ensure that the rice markets were serviced efficiently, the PPP, after 2020, moved decisively to return rice on its upward growth trajectory. By 2021, Minister of Agriculture, Zulficar Mustapha, announced that Guyana was able “…to secure additional markets for rice exports, and with the interventions made in the industry since August (of 2020), plans to double production and increase export over five years can be realised.”
As we reported in 2022, in the rice sector, over $100 million has been spent to improve rice yields. Additionally, support in pest control has been provided to farmers, while the Agriculture Ministry also marked the milestone of the Value-Added Laboratory becoming operational in March 2022.
“At the end of the review period, 16,277 bags of seeds were produced, and of this amount, 13,153 bags of quality seeds were produced at the Burma Rice Research Centre, while the remaining 3124 bags were by private seed growers from the No 56 Seed Facility. Research and testing continued in the first half with 6 of the 8 aromatic lines, 10 of the 12 high-yielding lines, and 4 of the 16 biofortified zinc lines selected for further testing.
“Additionally, the Value-Added Laboratory became operational in March 2022, while research on rice and rice products progressed to working with bakeries to commercially produce bread and pastries from rice flour. Further, the completion of the Soil Laboratory was delayed due to the challenges with the supply of equipment for the laboratory, owing to the global supply chain crisis,” the mid-year report stated.
The Government must be commended for its commitment, not only to the rice industry, but to food security, both domestically and regionally, as evidenced by its investments to operationalize Caricom’s “Vision 25 by 2025” – to reduce food imports by 25% by 2025. The agricultural sector is an indivisible mosaic because of the common demands of irrigation, drainage, soil health, pest control etc. With the decline of sugar, rice now forms the backbone of our comparative advantage in agriculture, and as such must be given the maximum support for the necessary economic diversification.

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