By Tracey Khan – Drakes
[www.inews.guyana.com] – General Secretary of the Guyana Rice Producers’ Association and Vice-chairman of the Guyana Rice Development Board, Dharamkumar Seeraj has defended the late payments to farmers by rice millers.
He told iNews during an interview that the unplanned growth or increased production in the rice sector in Essequibo is the cause of the late payments to farmers since Guyana’s export market for rice is small and there is only a short term arrangement with Venezuela.
Seeraj further explained that it is unfortunate that many farmers in Essequibo saw that the rice industry was lucrative and without approaching the Association for advice, began making investments in the sector.
Recently, rice farmers in Essequibo staged a peaceful protest, which subsequently turned violent against millers who didn’t pay them. That protest saw the burning of tyres and blocking of roads. Nineteen farmers have since been arrested and charged.
Production for the past three years has increased from 350,000 to 535,000 tons since most lands in Essequibo are being converted to farm lands. Out of the 535,000 tons of rice that was produced only 200,000 tons have been exported.
He noted that millers were forced to pay high prices by farmers and 60 percent of the rice is yet to be exported.
According to him, $20 billion was already paid to farmers countrywide and only $3B is left to be paid; in this regard they are working assiduously to pay the farmers even though the millers are left with the rice.
Essequibo farmers were paid some $400 million recently. As it relates to the postdated cheques farmers were paid with, Seeraj explained that when farmers are given those cheques they would take them to the Association and are allowed credit of products needed to farm and so far $22 million in fertilizers were given to farmers as they try to ease the challenge.
When asked how fair this was to the farmers since they have other obligations to their families, Seeraj, admitted that it is not fair, however, it is one of their strategies to assist the farmers and ease the pressure.