Ignored by APNU /AFC Govt in 2016, Rice farmers face a dreary 2017 – Ramsammy
(Following is a commentary written by former Agriculture Minister Dr Leslie Ramsamy)
Rice production fell by more than 13% for 2016, the first negative growth since 2005 when the La Nina big flood impacted on rice. The Minister of Agriculture stated that rice production was about 600,000 tons; in fact it fell below 600,000, interrupting the annual record-breaking performance which started in 2008. Beginning in 2011, the rice industry recorded a new single crop record every crop for nine straight crops, in spite of some serious inclement weather. The first crop of 2015 was the largest single crop production in our history, at about 375,000 tons. The successive new records for a single crop for rice production was interrupted in the second 2015 rice crop, production falling to below 300,000 tons.
There was also a 20% reduction in acreage under cultivation from about 93,000 to less than 71,000 hectares. Both 2016 crops have failed to reach 300,000 tons. The downward trajectory in rice production has forced APNU+AFC into silence. Unlike the end of 2015 when they boasted about rice production, their 2016 rice posture is a virtual silence.
In 2012, rice production topped 400,000 tons for the first time. In 2013, rice production exceeded 500,000 tons. In 2014 production reached 635,000 tons. After the first crop in 2015, production exceeded 375,000 and Guyana was above pace to attain the targeted 700,000 tons. The actual 675,000 tons in 2015 was another record, continuing the work of the PPP government. But, the second crop of 2015 was the smallest since 2011. Now in 2016, the downward trend started in the second crop of 2015 continues unabated. The weather in 2016 was more friendly for rice than the weather in 2014 and 2015. What then caused the downward trend in rice production? The Minister has an obligation to explain to the Guyanese people what happened.
The Minister of Agriculture boasted that they secured 35 destinations as market for Guyana’s rice. Let him inform the nation which one of these is entirely new and which one the government secured in 2016. All of the 35 destinations for Guyana’s rice in 2016 existed in 2014. It is true we sold more rice to Europe in 2016, but that market was there and we voluntarily reduced our export to Europe between 2009 and 2015 because we chose Venezuela as a more profitable export destination. We lost Venezuela by the end of 2015 and so we were forced in 2016 to send more rice to Europe, a lower-priced market. The Mexico market which we always supplied with a very small amount was claimed by PM Nagamootoo to be a new large market towards the end of 2015. He took personal responsibility and credit, but It never materialized in 2016 and there is no indication it will materialize in 2017. Even if it does, it will be a low-priced market. Nagamootoo has gone totally silent on this matter. The real catalyst for the downward trend in rice production is farmers are getting between $1,500 and $2,200 per bag for their paddy, far below the more than $3,000 they got up to the first crop of 2015 and a far cry from the $9,000 APNU+AFC promised farmers.
Incidentally, some of Guyana’s rice still end up informally in Venezuela. There is credible evidence that some rice supplied to Venezuela by a certain country comes from Guyana. There is also evidence, as the Minister admitted, that some millers are selling rice to Venezuela. It is a small amount, but the farmers do not benefit from the premium prices the PPP Government negotiated with Venezuela. It is reckless to abandon the premium prices in Venezuela only to see our rice ending up there anyways, without benefiting from the premium prices, simply because of the arrogance of APNU+AFC.
Blaming bad weather is a cop out. Rice farmers consistently cope with inclement weather. The weather in 2012, 2013 and 2014 were actually less friendly than it was in 2016. What was different in 2016 was farmers had minimal to no support for drainage and irrigation. The MMA was less responsive and the pumps that operated in several regions functioned below optimal capacity. Often there was not enough fuel and just as often the pumps were down, in need of maintenance and repairs. Non-support to cope with drainage and irrigation problems, low paddy prices, late payments, high fertilizer prices and paddy bug infestations have combined to cause reduced acreage under cultivation and lower production.
Now the government, in the absence of any plan for the closed sugar cane fields, have promised to get involved with rice production, just as they did in the 1980s. They want to cultivate hundreds of acres of rice in Wales and have paid huge amounts of consultancy fees to their friends to help them get rice production off the ground at Wales. After misinforming people that rice cultivation is already in place at Wales and the first crop should be reaped in March 2017, we now have been informed by GUYSUCO that, in fact, no rice is presently under cultivation. We have also been told that hundreds of acres will be cultivated at Skeldon. Inquiring minds want to know why would the government compete with farmers. Rice has always been a purely private sector activity. With government as a competitor, they will coerced millers into being preferred sellers of paddy, creating further hardships for farmers and millers.
In short, we end 2016 with rice farmers under assault, not just ignored, but penalized in 2016. APNU+AFC is clueless when it comes to rice and have foolishly removed all measures farmers benefited from. With no support for early payment, low paddy prices, non-support for affordable fertilizers, no support for drainage and irrigation, and removal of taxes on machinery and fuel and increased VAT on electricity and water, rice farmers confront a bleak and dreary 2017. I expect further reduction in rice production in 2017.