KILLING AGRICULTURE – APNU+AFC VICIOUS ASSAULTS ON FARMERS CONTINUE UNABATED
(The following is an opinion piece written by Dr. Leslie Ramsammy, former PPP/C government minister and veteran politician)
We must not be under any illusion – the increases in fees for land leases and drainage and irrigation in the MMA is not merely another revenue-generating scheme on the backs of working class Guyanese to benefit the ruling clique. It is political punishment targeting farmers and further efforts by APNU+AFC to KILL agriculture. I stand in full solidarity with the farmers in the MMA and throughout Guyana.
In the twenty (20) months since APNU+AFC took over Guyana’s Government, they have done everything to stagnate agriculture, unleashing the most vicious assaults on agriculture and on farmers throughout the country. These vicious attacks on farmers are motivated by politics. APNU+AFC view agriculture as a base for the PPP. From the very first day, they not only abandoned the farmers, but have sought to punish them. This is not shocking coming from APNU, but the silence of Moses Nagamootoo and Khemraj Ramjattan who presented themselves as the champions of farmers is nauseating and treacherous.
APNU+AFC’s latest assault targets farmers in the largest single agriculture scheme in the Caribbean – the Mahaica, Mahaicony, Abary Agriculture Development Scheme (MMA/ADA). Without any consultation APNU+AFC has increased fees for farmers in the MMA. The fee for land lease for rice farmers and drainage and irrigation charges have increased from $3,500 per acre to $15,000, an increase of about 500%. The land leases increased from $2,500 to $8,000 and drainage and irrigation charges were increased from $1,000 to $7,000. Cattle and cash crop farmers have seen increases in fees of more than 100%. Cattle pasture land leases have increased from $487 to $2,500 per acre and other pastures have increased from $200 to $1,400 per acre. These are unconscionable increases, designed to punish farmers at a time when the government needs to stimulate agricultural production and the economy.
When I was Minister of Agriculture, each month from January 2012 to May 2015, I discouraged any discussion of increases in fees, even modest increases. Far from increasing fees, we found additional ways to provide incentives to farmers. I accommodated management by seeking additional support from the Cabinet. Our goal was to accommodate farmers to produce more, not to make it unaffordable and not to impoverish farmers.
The PPP ensured that fees were suspended during difficult times. When farmers had to deal with droughts or with floods because of inclement weather, the PPP suspended fees for the period that farmers experienced inclement weather. APNU+AFC on the other hand continue to heap one assault after another on farmers. During recent flooding, the MMA provided minimum if any support to farmers. The present situation is that farmers are left ignored as they combat difficult weather conditions.
APNU+AFC have suffocated rice and have actively pursued the closure of sugar. They promised $9,000 per bag of paddy pre-election 2015. Now farmers are lucky to get $2,000 per bag and often the price is as low as $1,500. Support for early payments has vanished and there is no subsidy for fertilizers. The most lucrative rice market in Venezuela was lost and the promised Mexico market is just a BIG LIE. Sugar workers who were promised 20% wage increases have had zero wage increase for both 2015 and 2016 and they have already been warned that 2017 will not be different. Their API for 2015 was reduced by more than 50% and they were denied any API for 2016. Wales was closed at the end of 2016 and Rose Hall is about to close in 2017. Cane cultivation has ceased in Wales and Providence in Berbice and already curtailed at Skeldon and LBI.
When added to other measures by APNU+AFC, agriculture is faced with a bleak future. This year the inclusion of VAT on electricity and water, the removal of zero-rated goods, increases in transportation, removal of VAT and Excise Tax waivers from agriculture equipment and supplies, low paddy prices with non-support from government, closure of sugar estates and a myriad of other measures have contributed to stagnate agriculture and, in the process, stagnate the economy.
APNU+AFC has done nothing to support cash crop farmers, aquaculture has virtually grounded to a halt, the mega farm projects have been left dangling. The PPP’s push to include corn, soya, potato, carrots, as major agriculture products is being marginalized. The efforts to become a major aquaculture producer and livestock giant in CARICOM have been abandoned. Importantly, the Minister of Agriculture is clueless and disinterested.
Agriculture, more than oil or gold, is the foundation for our development. Without food security, no amount of oil or gold will transform our country into a prosperous country. Guyana can supply all of the rice, sugar, fruits, vegetables, poultry products, other meat products and all dairy products CARICOM needs. CARICOM imports $US4B in food from outside CARICOM. The attack on farmers in the MMA, like the attacks on agriculture elsewhere in Guyana is KILLING AGRICULTURE. This is simply asinine.