…Govt cannot maintain sugar industry − Agri Minister
The financial challenges in the rice industry have continued as Agriculture Minister Noel Holder has announced a projected near 13 per cent decline in earnings for the sector in 2016. The collapse of the Petro-Caribe (rice-for-oil) Venezuela rice deal coupled with the dry weather patterns earlier this year were major challenges that gripped the industry last year. He further explained that prices on the world market are also seeing decreases.
“In 2016 rice production is expected to decline by 12.7 per cent to 600,000 metric tonnes. This reduction is due to the El Niño weather condition and some farmers exiting the industry which was lost by the high priced Venezuela market,” the Agriculture Minister stated.
These comments were disclosed at a press conference at the Ministry of Agriculture on Thursday. Holder explained that due to the El Niño condition, only 84 per cent of rice produced was sold, which translates to 76,717 hectares out of the 91,072 hectares target for the first crop. He said that 3311 hectares were lost.
“In 2017, rice is expected to further decline by 1.6 per cent. On the other hand, we’ve managed to secure markets in 35 countries [which] has led to increases in exports by 1 per cent over 2015 at the end of October 2016. However, due to the reduction in world market prices, the value of exports will decline. Prices per tonne at the end of October were US$370 per tonne compared with US$394 in 2015,” Holder disclosed.
He added that for 2017, exports are projected to be around 531,000 tonnes valued over US$180 million and that to increase production, the Guyana Rice Development Board will be offering farmers incentives who left the industry to return to rice cultivation.
“This renewed focus will see the Board, advancing its efforts at introducing new high yielding varieties of rice as part of its efforts at decentralising seed production. Government has been diligently employing various technologies in an effort to reduce the impact of severe weather on farmers and in 2017, this will continue with the increased emphasis on specialty rice varieties, with increased emphasis on the development of value-added production such as rice/wheat flour blend, rice noodles, pasta and precooked rice products,” the Minister disclosed.
He also noted that the world market price of Aromatic rice varieties ranged from US$700 to US$1200 per tonne. The lucrative PetroCaribe deal was cancelled months before its November 2015 expiration date by the Venezuelan Government and this has resulted in farmers receiving $1,500 to $2,200” per bag of paddy.
Guyana Times carried a series of reports during this year highlighting the plight of rice farmers who were also owed millions by millers who processed their paddy. These millers had claimed that they were finding it difficult in finding markets to sell the rice after the Venezuela deal had ended.
Meanwhile, at Thursday’s press conference, the Minister also put emphasis on the sugar sector where he stressed that Government cannot afford to continue awarding subsides to the sugar industry in its current state.
“The Government is concerned with the future wellbeing of the sugar workers and their families. The Government is also deeply concerned about the other sectors of the economy and the critical need for investment in those sectors. It would be irresponsible of this Government to not sensibly address these challenges in a sustainable manner,” the Agriculture Minister posited.
Wales Conversion Plans
Speaking on the conversion plans for the Wales Sugar Estate, Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) Finance Director, Paul Bhim, explained that some 100 of 1000 workers, not 1700 as previously reported, were identified for the conversion plans, including husbandry practices.
“The ploughing of the land has started. The 100 workers will be doing husbandry practices – weeding, cleaning the canals,” Bhim stated.
He also refuted claims of weed overgrowth at lands prepared by the sugar corporation. This was in response to reports this publication received that even though land was prepared, in many instances, no rice was planted and that weeds had reportedly taken over some of the plots. At the ministry’s press conference, Bhim explained that “people are on ground” using chemicals to control the weed situation.
It was last week Friday that the Agriculture Minister claimed that the first crop of rice at the Wales Estate was expected by March 2017 but on Thursday, he clarified that only seedlings were set and that rice will be planted until next year.
Meanwhile, Holder further disclosed that he along with some Government ministers, including Minister of State Joseph Harmon, the main Opposition, People’s Progressive Party/ Civic, and agriculture and trade union bodies will meet, this Saturday, to discuss future plans for the sugar industry. The unions include the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union, the National Association of Agricultural, Commercial and Industrial Employees, and the Guyana Labour Union.
The final date for closure of the Wales Sugar Estate factory is tomorrow (December 31). Shemuel Fanfai