- As agriculture Minister hosts stakeholders meeting with Reg. 2 rice farmers, millers
Farmers along the Essequibo Coast, today met with Agriculture Minister Zulfikar Mustapha and expressed their dissatisfaction with the lengthy periods they are forced to wait for payment for paddy from millers.
During several meetings in the Region, Minister reassured farmers that government will be working with farmers and millers to ensure the issue of untimely payments are a thing of the past.
“I understand your frustrations. We have been engaging millers to find long term solution to this issue. It has been going on for some time and it is time our millers honour their obligation to pay farmers,” Minister Mustapha said.
By law, millers are required to pay farmers within 42 days of receiving paddy.
Several millers who were present indicated that as much as they understand farmers need to be paid, they are owed millions of dollars for shipments of rice supplied to markets such as Panama, and as a result, they are unable to pay farmers on time.
Minister Mustapha informed the gathering that Government is actively engaging Panamanian officials to get the payments for these shipments as soon as possible.
“When our government came into office, one of the first interventions we made was to engage the Panamanian Government as it relates to these outstanding payments. Guyana is owed $1.9B for rice supplied from two shipments. His Excellency Irfaan Ali, would have contacted Panamanian government officials and they have acknowledged this debt. They are asking for a little time to pay given the financial impact of the current global pandemic. We are hoping that payments can commence before the end of the year,” Minister Mustapha said.
Mr. Naith Ram, a representative from the Water Users’ Association said that several systems need to be put in place to ensure all farmers benefit in the Region.
“There needs to be a proper water management schedule implemented. When one group of farmers is not getting water, we find that there are high incidences of tampering to critical drainage and irrigation structures,” Mr. Ram said.
He further stated that there needs to be some investigation by the relevant authorities as it relates to weighing of paddy at the mills.
“Farmers have been complaining that when they take their paddy to one mill and weigh it, they get one weight. When they take the same paddy to another mill, they get a different weight. There needs to be a farmers’ representative at these mills Minister,” Mr. Ram said.
Minister Mustapha said that he will engage the Rice Producers’ Association (RPA) to have an officer stationed at the mills to ensure these issues are addressed.
“Now that the RPA will once again benefit from Government subvention, we will engage them, as the body responsible for farmers’ rights, to have an officer at these mills to ensure that farmers get the right weight at these mills. We will also be looking into having grading officers at the mills more regularly so that farmers can benefit from accurately graded paddy,” Minister said.
President of the Essequibo Chamber of Commerce (ECC), Riyan Ramotar, while addressing the gathering, encouraged farmers to explore diversification.
“I am a miller and I want to state openly that I do not owe any farmer. However, I want to encourage farmers to diversify their cultivation. There are two crops per year. When you are out of crop you can plant something else that can help to sustain you and your family while you wait on payment from millers. Although rice is important, it is time we move away from solely planting rice,” Mr. Ramotar said.
Farmers also raised concerns about the quality of fertilizers coming to the Region. Minister informed farmers that he will have his officers reach out the Guyana National Bureau of Standards (GNBS) to monitor the quality of these fertilizers.
The subject Minister also highlighted some of the immediate interventions farmers can look forward to from the emergency budget.
“We’ve only been in office for about a month, and already we’ve fulfilled 12 of the 35 campaign promises for the agriculture sector. We’ve taken the VAT off fertilizers, agro-chemicals and pesticides. We’ve also taken the decision to reverse increases in land lease fees for lands under cultivation, and land taxes and drainage and irrigation charges, back to their 2014 position. Those are just some of the measures put in place to assist our farmers form this emergency 4-months budget,” Minister said.