Millers owe Essequibo rice farmer over $132M

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– Minister Holder slams non-payment, urges GRDB to explore penalties for errant millers

<<Inews>> has long been reporting about the financial hardships experienced by rice farmers who have been owed millions of dollars by rice millers; Agriculture Minister Noel Holder has concurred with the farmers’ plight and slammed the prolonged delay.

According to the Department of Public Information, (DPI), Agriculture Minister Noel Holder on Thursday declared that the delay farmers experience in receiving from millers payment for their produce is a clear violation of the Rice Factories Act, and is a “clear demonstration of unfair business practices”.

His comments came after rice farmer and Essequibo Paddy Producers’ Association head, Naith Ram, lamented the farmers’ plight during a recent outreach to Region Two.

According to DPI, while saying that rice farmers on the Essequibo Coast “are being held to ransom by many millers”, Ram has identified rice miller Wazir Hussain as owing many of those farmers.

Hussain had earlier told this newspaper that it was the Guyana Rice Development Board (GRDB) which owe millers, and the millers, in turn, owe farmers. Nevertheless, Ram cried out that he has been owed since the first crop for 2018. He said that many farmers had to either relinquish cultivating or scale back cultivation significantly.

“Farmers have not been paid to date. We have a Factories Act, but farmers will not take millers to court because of fear of victimisation by other millers. We have to devise another system – we have to take some firm action. How can a farmer who is not being paid sustain his family? We have to do something to help the situation in Region Two.” Ram said.

DPI quoted Ram as saying that millers continually owing farmers is “negatively affecting the rice industry and the livelihood of rice farmers.” According to the Government Information Service, GRDB noted that millers on the Essequibo Coast owe farmers more than $132 million for paddy supplied from the first crop, with a popular Essequibo miller owing “97% of that figure”.

In response, Minister Holder has said millers must not be allowed to mistreat rice farmers and withhold payments.

“We have many millers faulting the Board for their not being able to pay farmers, especially recently, for rice shipped to Panama. The Panama deal is not like other arrangements millers have with other buyers; it is a Government-to-Government arrangement. The GRDB approached millers explaining that the Panama market offers 30% more for the rice, but like any Government-to- Government arrangement, funds take a litter longer to process.”

Minister Holder pointed out that if millers are not treating farmers justly, the GRDB could explore withholding milling licences, as the law stipulates. “However, this has to be a Board policy…as a member of the GRDB Board of Directors, you can bring that suggestion to the table, (but) the Minister cannot make that decision; it has to be a decision of the Board.” Minister Holder said.

Rice farmers on the Essequibo island of Wakenaam were in July paid after waiting for five long months to be paid for their produce. Before this payment was effected, farmers had vented their frustrations at the prolonged delay, saying that the crop would pass without them being paid. However, as media reports highlighted, after months of non-payment that farmers were being made to endure, the farmers finally received the monies that were owed to them.

However, the Guyana Rice Millers Association (GRMA) maintained that millers are signing agreements with GRDB, which has a Government-to-Government arrangement with Panama, and as such, GRDB has an obligation to pay millers.

GRMA Head, Leekha Rambrich, had observed in June that GRDB was violating laws on its delayed payments to millers under the Panama deal.

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