On Monday, Region Two (Pomeroon-Supenaam) rice farmers took to the streets to picket Minister of Agriculture, Noel Holder at the commissioning ceremony for a $103 million pump station at Land of Plenty.
Rice farmers had said they had sought an audience with the subject Minister on several occasions via several letters for a urgent meeting but to no avail.
Leading the protest was Dharamkumar Seeraj, General Secretary of the Guyana Rice Producers Association (RPA) who said that after visiting the farmers and listening to their complaints he wrote the Minister seeking his intervention, but up to date didn’t receive any acknowledgement and farmers decided to get the attention of the Minister at Land of Plenty, where two pumps were commissioned, by protesting.
After the opening ceremony the Minister met with the farmers who shared their many concerns.
Farmers are seeking the Government’s intervention to negotiate with the Banks for loan rescheduling, assistance with fuel, seed paddy etc, in light of the challenges they are facing with the production of rice. But the Minister said that there is nothing much that he can do to help the farmers because if he gives concessions to Essequibo farmers other Regions will make demands too.
However, the farmers are of the belief that Government can do something to help them.
They even made mention of former President Dr Bharrat Jagdeo’s tenure in office where they said that his Administration came to the rescue of the rice industry and met with the the lending agencies to have the loans rescheduled, helped with removal of taxes, fertilizers, met with millers, and so much more to bring the industry back on its foot, and questioned why can’t this Government do the same to rescue the industry.
Meanwhile, this publication was informed that lending agencies have already started to seize machinery and equipment purchased with loans by farmers who are now unable to pay same.
Ken Albert Cornette of Dartmouth said that his tractor was seized earlier this month and he lost over $ 3million in down payment, in addition over 200 acres of rice, which he said had to be abandoned due to damaged grains caused by blast and bugs.
The Minister advised that the Guyana Rice Development Board (GRDB) meet with the millers, but the farmers said that they have lost all confidence in the organization saying that the GRDB is now silent and is on the side of the millers who they also accused of exploiting them.
Seeraj said that about 170 farmers so far cannot return to the land and if nothing is being done to help the industry, Region two will suffer, tremendously.