Agri Minister slams non-payment of farmers by Essequibo millers

  • in excess of GY $132M owed to farmers for first crop
  • GRDB urged to explore penalties for errant millers

Agriculture Minister, Noel Holder has slammed the prolonged delay in payment of rice farmers on Guyana’s Essequibo coast, calling it a clear violation of the rice factories act and a clear demonstration of unfair business practices.

The Minister was at the time responding to a plea for help from rice farmer and head of the Essequibo Paddy Producers’ Association, Mr. Naith Ram, during a recent outreach to Region Two.

Regional Councillor, Naith Ram, Regional Agriculture Coordinator

Regional Councillor, Naith Ram, Regional Agriculture Coordinator

Mr. Ram, while seeking the immediate intervention of the ministry, said rice farmers on the Essequibo Coast are being held at ransom by many millers, naming rice miller, Wazir Hussain as the chief offender in this regard.

According to Ram, rice farmers who supplied paddy to this miller in the first crop of 2018 are yet to receive payments. This has resulted in many farmers having to either relinquish cultivating or scaling back significantly.

“Farmers have not been paid to date. We have a factory act but farmers will not take millers to court because of fear of victimization by other millers. We have to devise another system – we have to take some firm action. How can a farmer who is not being paid sustain his family? We have to do something to help the situation in Region Two.” Mr. Ram said.

Minister of Agriculture Noel Holder, makes a point during the recent meeting held with councillors in Region Two

Minister of Agriculture Noel Holder, makes a point during the recent meeting held with councillors in Region Two

Ram also said that this practice by millers is negatively affecting the rice industry and the livelihood of rice farmers, who are helpless in the face of these actions on the part of errant millers.

Figures released by the Guyana Rice Development Board (GRDB) confirms that millers on the Essequibo Coast owe farmers in excess of GY $132M for paddy supplied from the first crop, with one miller Wazir Hussain, who is one of the largest millers on the Essequibo Coast, owing 97% of that figure.

Responding to the concerns raised by the farmers, Minister Holder said millers must not be allowed to mistreat rice farmers and withhold payments.

“We have many millers faulting the Board for them not being able to pay farmers, more recently for rice shipped to Panama. The Panama deal is not like other arrangements millers have with other buyers – it is a government to government arrangement. The GRDB approached millers explaining that the Panama market offers 30% more for the rice, but like any government to government arrangement, funds take a litter longer to process.”

Mr. Ram, in offering suggestions to assist farmers with non-payment from millers, said that GRDB should explore withholding milling licenses to defiant millers.

Minister Holder in responding to Mr. Ram’s suggestion, stated that if millers are not treating the farmers as they should, GRDB can indeed explore withholding milling licenses as the rice factories act, under which all mills operate, identifies the Rice Board as the licensing and regulatory body.

“However, this has to be a Board policy. Mr. Ram, as a member of the GRDB Board of Directors, you can bring that suggestion to the table. The Minister cannot make that decision. It has to be a decision of the Board.” Minister Holder said.