Rice farmers of Skeldon and surrounding communities in Region Six were able to raise their concerns and shared suggestions for the industry’s development with Minister of Agriculture, Noel Holder and his team, when they visited the region recently.
Financing and production cost were among the hotly debated topics at the meeting with farmers providing suggestions on measures to reduce the latter. Among those provided were the need for better farm to market roads and more lands for cultivation.
Minister Holder assured the farmers who numbered 140, that the issues highlighted will be addressed.
The meeting organised by the Prime Minister’s liaision in Region Six, Gobin Harbhajan was divided into segments to facilitate various components including identifying challenges facing rice farmers; subsidies for the industry; the need for aerial spraying, issues pertaining to the Guyana Rice Development Board (GRDB) and measures to reduce production costs among others.
Cost of fertilizer and financing
The cost for fertiliser was one of the many concerns raised by the farmers, and Minister Holder explained to them that the Ministry was looking at providing fertiliser at $6000 per bag, with the aim of allowing farmers to import their own. This would have brought the price down to $4500. However, before this could have materialised, the private importers dropped their prices to $4000 to increase competition.
Minister Holder however, suggested that the Rice Producers Association (RPA) assist farmers in purchasing fertiliser at a reasonable cost, since one of its representatives in the area has access to it at a cheap price.
Access to financing was a major concern to the farmers. The Agriculture Minister pointed out that the Ministry of Finance has engaged the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) on the re-establishment of an agricultural bank. He then reminded the gathering of the 1969 period when the government borrowed money from the World Bank to go into cattle rearing. The Minister explained that the government then lent that money to the commercial banks at three percent interest to facilitate loans to farmers, with an agreement of only six percent interest repayable. This, he said, can be remodelled to suit the current needs of the farmers.
Competition & tax exemptions
Competition in the industry was another area discussed. The President of the Upper Corentyne Chamber of Commerce, Abraham Subnauth argued that “it is not healthy for the private sector if the state runs a free market.” Responding to this argument, Minister Holder stressed that “while the government has a role towards private sector development, it has an obligation to the farmers, and we will not engage in exploitation of farmers.”
The farmers also expressed their disappointment in not being given tax exemptions on their vehicles, equipment and materials to which the Agriculture Minister explained that the officers have to follow established protocols to verity the creditability of the persons applying for these exemptions.
Aerial spraying was also an area discussed, and the Minister explained that the Ministry of Agriculture does not have the remit to decide whether spraying will continue or not. However, the Pesticides and Toxic Chemicals Control Board, is responsible for ensuring the safety of commodities, and because of suicides rates and easy access to pesticides, they had to step in. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is currently looking at whether aerial spraying would materialise.
Further, farmers complained that the RPA was not doing them any justice and their concerns have fallen on deaf ears. One farmer stated, “They don’t represent we, all these issues you (the head table) telling us we should raise with RPA we did, but we ain’t get no help.”
They also complained of not being able to dry their paddy at GRBD’s Number 56 Village, drying facility. However, it was explained that the facility is open to private farmers for drying their paddy at a cost of $500 per bag, which depends on the quality and the variety of the paddy.
They were also reminded that there are farmers who are contracted to the facility and their paddy would be given priority. Those who are interested in accessing the facility need to make appointments.
The farmers also urged Nizam Hassan, General Manager of the GRDB to adjust the board’s research styles and techniques, pointing out that competitors are way ahead of Guyana in terms of industry research.
Additionally the Agriculture Minister urged the farmers to work together to facilitate better water management. “If all farmers plant together, this will aid in water management rather than one planting now, and another next week.”