Rice remains everyone’s business – Mustapha tells Region Two farmers

– farmers, millers offered 35% reduction on ferry cost

– farmers receive chemicals, fertilizers

Following requests by farmers, millers and Regional Officials from Region Two for government to assist with issues faced in the rice sector on the Essequibo Coast, Agriculture Minister Zulfikar Mustapha on two separate occasions today had meetings with rice farmers and millers to listen to some of their concerns.

During the meetings Minister Mustapha informed both farmers and millers that government was prepared to offer concessions that could see farmers benefiting from improved prices for their paddy.

Minister Zulfikar Mustapha engages farmers during the meeting

“I came here today with the intention of working together with you because I heard farmers here were facing some issues with the industry. I know you are not pleased with the prices you are receiving for paddy in Essequibo. After this meeting, I’ll be meeting with the millers. I plan to extend to them the same assistance we are giving to Leguan and Wakenaam where we’ll reduce the cost of the ferry service by 35% along with providing a standard ferry to take paddy from Essequibo to Parika, but the reduction in price has to filter down to the farmers,” Minister Mustapha said.

Kaydor Persaud, a rice farmer from Affiance, said that farmers were not satisfied with the prices they are currently receiving for their paddy.

“I think that the paddy price is a bit too low and Honourable Minister, I think you can do something about it. We are seeing paddy prices are better in other Regions. So what we are asking for is an intervention for you to see how something can be done. We are not satisfied with the price and we are not satisfied with the grading system. The system of grading should really be looked at. Another thing Minister, we heard, I don’t know if it is correct, but there was a drop in rates for the boat to transport paddy from different areas for farmers. We are asking if you can do the same for us. There is also an issue with lands where we are getting leases for lands when we should be getting titles and we are not satisfied with it. We are asking for you to look into it and help us,” Mr. Persaud said.

Minister Mustapha while distributing chemicals to farmers following the meeting

Other farmers raised issues with paddy bug infestation as well as a number of other personal issues that the Minister promised to address. He also committed to having a meeting with fishermen from the Region shortly, after one resident made a request for him to do so.

The subject Minister also informed the farmers that six new drying floors will be constructed in the Region and encouraged them to utilize these facilities once construction has completed. 

“We have funds in the budget to construct drying floors in the Region. I’ve asked our officers from GRDB to meet with you and discuss where these drying floors will be. I don’t want farmers to think that these facilities will be built and only one person will benefit. When we do something the entire farming community must benefit. I know there is a stigma attached to drying floors across the country. People prefer drying their paddy on the road rather than going to a drying floor facility. This is why we have to work and discuss with the farmers on the best locations for these investments,” Minister Mustapha said.

Some of the chemicals that were distributed to farmers

“Last year when I came I said that we would be procuring boom-sprayers to assist with paddy bugs. From this year’s budget we’ll be purchasing five boom-sprayers for Essequibo. By June we should have them and they will be sent here so that the farmers can have some relief. Farmers that have issues with paddy bugs, I’ve already instructed GRDB to help the farmers with chemicals and additional extension services. Our officers will be going around to different areas to conduct assessments and we will be giving each farmer one bag of seed paddy for every acre that was damaged,” Minister Mustapha said.

In addressing farmers’ dissatisfaction with the grading system in the Region, Minister Mustapha said that during his last outreach to the Region, he’d offered farmers the opportunity to identify persons to undergo training by the GRDB and employed as graders. He acknowledged that there was some level of mistrust between millers and farmers and said that his Ministry was exploring options to ensure farmers and millers are both treated fairly during the grading process.

During the meeting with the millers, president of the Guyana Rice Exporters and Millers Association (GREMA), Rajindra Persaud said that millers have expressed concerns with the overall cost attached transporting their finished products to ports in the city.

Some of the millers present at the meeting with Agriculture Minister Zulfikar Mustapha

“From my experience speaking with millers in the Region, their big concern is transporting finished products to Georgetown especially with the cost of the ferry and the restriction at the Demerara Harbor Bridge. There is a weight limit at the bridge so normally when a truck leaves Essequibo they have to discharge at West Demerara, take off some of the load, cross the bridge, discharge that load, cross back over the bridge, load the remaining stuff and then proceed to the wharf. It’s very tedious and expensive,” Mr. Persaud said.

Mr. Persaud also said that there needs to be a cultural shift in terms of rice cultivation in the Region. He maintained that if farmers can irrigate their fields in a shorter time to facilitate block planting as is done in Region Six, within six weeks the entire area can be cultivated and the bugs would not be able to move from field to field.

Tanish Jagmohan of Caricom Rice Mill said factoring in all levels of the production chain, the price being offered to farmers is fair.

“The prices we are offering; we did a lot of calculations. Looking at cost of production at an hourly basis and it’s a fair price. We are encountering issues like green and damage and so on and it affects our overall profit margin. Our prices, to me, are very competitive compared to the prices we are getting overseas. We’ve gone up $100 per bag yet the quality remains the same,” Mr. Jagmohan said.

Minister Mustapha told the millers that he is prepared to extend concessions to farmers and millers in the Region with the expectation the benefit would be passed on to the farmers.

“As it stands now, I think the factor that determines the prices in Region Two is transportation. I have a proposal. We can look at the consideration of the ferry. In the islands, we were able to give special concessions to the farmers there and I want to extend the same concession to the farmers and millers on the Essequibo Coast. We’ll reduce the cost of the ferry by 35% and we will have a special ferry to transport the cargo so you won’t have to wait on the passenger ferry. If you can add the savings to what is offered to the farmers’ price we would be willing to put that in place,” Minister Mustapha.

While responding to the Minister’s proposal, one millers said that the proposal was good but that the majority of their product transported through the ferry service was rice and not paddy. He said if farmers can deliver better quality paddy, millers would be able to offer better prices as they were prepared to offer higher prices to the farmers but the rain and high instances of paddy bug infestation had adversely affected the quality of the last crop.

They, however committed to meeting and discussing the Minister’s proposal and provide a response within the next few days. 

The day’s proceedings also saw Minister Mustapha distributing fertilizers and other chemicals to farmers who suffered losses as a result of flooding and paddy bug infestation.