PPP’s early success not maintained by PNC
The minister, speaking during a recent interview on the National Communications Network, first recounted how early post-Independence Guyana fared well within the rice sector, declaring that 200, 000 tonnes were achieved in 1964, and for the first time, 100,000 tonnes were exported in that same year and that was during the 1957, 1964 PPP government.
There was a drop from this lofty height, and according to Dr. Ramsammy, Guyana did not reach 200,000 tonnes again in production until 1995, and indeed “we only reach 100,000 tonnes in export once between 1964 and 1992.” In other words, the minister clearly portrayed that with the People’ National Congress (PNC), rice crumbled, as only in 1978, Guyana managed to export 104,000 tonnes.
However, barring this lone bright spot, the PNC allowed the sector to become virtually dead, but since 1992, “rice has just parachuted upwards, and we now have a production of 635,000 tonnes last year, that is a number that just ten years ago, people said was impossible for Guyana, and so far for this crop of 2015, when we have so far harvested 25 per cent of the crop, if the production continues to the end of this first crop, we will produce more than 350,000 tonnes of rice, which is more in one crop than we did anytime in the period before 1992.”
In January of this year, 45,000 tonnes were exported which is more in this first quarter than had been exported anytime between 1964 and 1992, in a year, irrefutable evidence that the industry has flourished. Overall, in 2014, the country exported 501,000 tonnes.
He elaborated that in Essequibo, Guyana is producing more rice now than at any other time in history. Figures show that by 1990, “we were only cultivating about 30,000 acres, but now, we are cultivating in Essequibo (alone) around 38,000 hectares (one hectare is 2.47 acres).
Minister Ramsammy detailed, after compiling the figures, there was growth of more than 100 per cent. He also mentioned that the success is more than numbers as before 1992, in Essequibo more than half of the rice produced was by one entity, Kayman Sankar Group of Companies, but that today, 100 per cent of the production in Essequibo comes from thousands of farmers. This takes the success of rice into a new dimension where monopoly and exploitation were erased.
This important dimension is sometimes missed by the opposition, but he challenged that “people take a step back and recognise that indeed before 1992, we had very few mills in the country, and that production was not there to support the mills.”
He recapped that at this juncture, there was little to show in terms of infrastructure, but that today there are large mills and whether it’s Essequibo, Regions Three, Four, Five or Six, there are mills that produce quality rice that could enter any market in the world.
For example, the minister referred to the Venezuelan market that excites everyone, but showed that “if we had this market in 1992, we could not sell to Venezuela, because the quality of the mills that we had could not process paddy to produce the rice that Venezuela buys.”
He added that virtually all of the paddy that is produced in Essequibo can meet the quality that is required and in every way whatsoever.
Agriculture Minister Dr Leslie Ramsammy
Minister Ramsammy rubbished the opposition’s idea that ‘the government should step aside’ and that ‘rice is a private sector business.’ He poignantly queried: “Will the farmers invest in all of this?” He made it clear that the government has a role to accommodate the growth of the industry, and if these investments it is making were to be removed, then rice would die again.
He cited during the dry season, the irrigation pumps have to provide the water as a public good. He pointed out that the pumps, which were established by the late Dr.Cheddi Jagan in 1957 and 1964, were either disabled or mal-functioning during the tenure of the PNC, but “the PPP/C government did resuscitation work, and so today, even in an extreme dry season, we may not be able to give the farmers all the water they want, but we meet their demands, so that the rice industry is not destroyed.”
At present government is building a pump station at Lima, and even though a pump station was put in at Three Friends a new one is being budgeted for. The minister added that not only the ‘pump inputs’ but also work on the main canal, linking the conservancy, had to be seriously worked on, as “this was almost non-functional, and all the head regulators were disabled.”
Dr. Ramsammy mentioned that under an Inter American Development Bank loan, this government replaced all of the head regulators, and has maintained the main canals, even as “those very maintenance activities are continuing to be an issue with the opposition.”
Before 1992, Guyana only sold rice to a few European countries and some in the Caribbean. He tied this reality to the fact that during these years, Guyana did not need more (markets) because the production was low, sufficing for the few markets. Conversely, the minister declared that the market size then could not take up even half of a crop of current production.
Today, the minister detailed, production and market are in great equilibrium and now “we export to more European countries than we have ever done before, we export to more Caribbean countries, because some Caribbean countries were buying rice from the US and are now buying from Guyana, we export to more South American countries, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, we export to Central America, which we never did before and not just Panama, we export to Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador, and as we speak, we at the conclusion of the arrangement with African countries.”
Locally produced rice on the shelves of the Guyana Shop
He noted too that that the business and economic sides of this kind of large-scale export are well taken care off and that “draft contracts are available for these new countries, and we are looking at the banking arrangements to make sure that we get paid.”
The expanded market, explained the minister, means that “all our eggs are not in one basket” and that Guyana has to always be prepared, that if something should go wrong in one place that the industry will not crumble.
Value – added rice
Minister Ramsammy paid tribute to the government’s prudence where the rice sector is concerned, in that there were calculated moves to ensure that quantity, quality and variety be amalgamated.
Since 1995 to now, the country has produced 14 new varieties of rice, paddy for Guyana, and recently, “we introduced GRDB 14, and in 300 acres, where it is now on farmer’s plot, including in Essequibo, and the average is between 55 and 60 bags per acre, GRDB 13 is the aromatic rice, and GRDB 12, 11, 10 are still very popular across Guyana.”
In sharp contrast, the minister noted that before 1992, this was not possible. He recalled the Rustic (the extra-long grain, high quality locally developed rice variety) that was developed by an Indian scientist in Guyana, but this contribution under the then PNC government was short-lived, as the PNC revoked his visa and sent him home.
No validity in what is peddled
Minister Ramsammy advised that when there are criticisms from the opposition, stating that “we have high production but no markets, they ignore the fact that last year we sold 501,000 tonnes and we had 33 countries,” and therefore there is no validity to what is being peddled.
He further elaborated that people need to realise that rice is one of the most common commodities in the world, but many of these markets demand high quality rice, and this means that millers must ensure that they are sending the best quality of rice, or their reputation will be affected. This, he said is what recently obtained with Alesie, having shipped substandard rice to Chile, and this had a huge negative impact, as it harmed Guyana’s reputation.
He singled out Mr. Turhane Doerga, “as having done Guyana a disservice, by jeopardising that particular market, and now we have to go and make sure we do everything, so we are starting back this year from scratch, and we have to go and make sure we bring rice into Chile and show them that Guyana has high quality rice, and they should not nurture an image in their mind that Guyana’s rice is just bricks, wood chips.”
A vendor at his stall in the Bourda Market offering different types of locally produced brown rice
The minister also recalled that Mr. Doerga had a questionable entry into the rice sector. He traced the fact that under the PNC, Anna Regina, Somerset, Berks, Black Bush, Wakenaam, and in fact the entire major mills, except Kayman Sankar, were owned by the government. At this juncture, Mr. Doerga came to Guyana, and “Mr. Desmond Hoyte literally handed him over the rice industry, and I don’t know how much he paid, I don’t know if he paid,” but he afterward kept borrowing money, and “I think the amount of money was around US $34 M.”
This irresponsible and spendthrift approach led to a 2006 Florida litigation against Mr. Doerga, as “he was taken to court, because he had not paid back his money, and that court decision was an interim judgment for $8 M, and then in 2013, there was another court judgment for another $12 M, plus interest, and later in 2013, an order from the judge was for the arrest Mr. Doerga anytime he appears in Florida.”
In wrapping up his arguments, the minister appealed to Guyanese and rice farmers in particular, that they be careful of persons who spread all kinds of stories and confuse their minds.