Govt cannot impose itself on millers; market regulates prices – AG

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Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs Anil Nandlall

As rice farmers across the country continue to protest the reduced prices they are being paid for paddy at a time when the cost of everything is going up, Attorney General and Legal Affairs Minister Anil Nandlall, SC, is reminding that Government has taken an approach that see market conditions setting the prices for paddy.

Over the past two weeks, rice farmers in both Berbice and Essequibo took to the streets, calling for millers to pay better prices per tonnage of paddy.

But Nandlall pointed out on Tuesday during his weekly programme – Issues In The News – that the global effect of the COVID-19 pandemic has been exacerbated by recent world events such as the Russia-Ukraine crisis, thus sending world market prices for commodities such as fuel skyrocketing.

This, he noted, has a cascading effect on all sectors including agriculture, especially the rice sector.

“So, our rice farmers are on the road, [because] you have fertilisers increasing – we are importing that kind of inflation; fuel – an essential commodity in the agri sector, the prices there going up; chemicals, the prices there going up and unfortunately, the price of paddy is going down,” the AG stated.

He pointed out that while Government was cognisant that farmers were “feeling the squeeze”, there was only so much it could do when it came to the price of paddy, which is set by market trends.

“Persons are frustrated and they go out to the streets and protest. But the Government can’t regulate the price that the millers, for example, purchase paddy at. Unless the Government is to impose price tariffs and impose a pricing regime, but we don’t wish to do that.”

“As a government, we wish to subscribe to the notion that the market must regulate these things. But that is not easy, because when the market regulates it, the prices are difficult to control, and the Government is faced with this constant dilemma,” the AG asserted.

Rice farmers in Essequibo on Tuesday joined in protesting reduced prices for paddy
Nevertheless, Nandlall reassured that Government Ministers were on the ground meeting with the concerned farmers and working on solutions to address their plight.

“We will continue to ensure that, as far as possible, we reduce the burden of the increase in cost of living… It’s a work in progress and we call upon the population for understanding and for compassion; that’s all we can do at this point in time. We can’t impose price control on the millers; we can’t impose price control on the business community. Not that we can’t, we don’t wish to move in that direction – that’s not the style of Government to which we are committed or we would like to practice,” the Attorney General asserted.

Last week, farmers in Region Six (East Berbice-Corentyne) protested after millers reduced the price for paddy from $70,000 per tonne to $65,000 per tonne and then further reduced it to $60,000.

Agriculture Minister Zulfikar Mustapha, who met with the farmers along the Corentyne on Saturday, subsequently intervened and reassured them that they would receive no less than $65,000 per tonne for paddy.

But one day after agreeing to pay the farmers $65,000, rice millers on Sunday again dropped the price to $62,000 per tonne.

On Monday, farmers told Guyana Times that none of their paddy was graded as A+, hence, they would only receive a maximum of $61,000 per tonne.

This was confirmed by notices which millers are required by law to have, which publicly display the prices they are offering to farmers.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday of this week, scores of rice farmers on the Essequibo Coast, Region Two (Pomeroon-Supenaam) also took to the streets in protest over the reduced paddy prices.

The rice farmers protesting in the township of Anna Regina are demanding that the price for paddy return to what it was and called on the Rice Producers Association (RPA) and the Guyana Rice Development Board (GRDB) to ensure that fair prices were offered to them by millers.

It was reported that Minister Mustapha was slated to visit the region this week to address the concerns of the farmers.

However, the farmers told this publication that they would continue to protest until they received a better price for a bag of paddy.