Agriculture Minister Zulfikar Mustafa has assured rice farmers that they will receive no less than $65,000 per tonne for paddy.
The assurance was given when he met with rice farmers in the Black Bush Polder on Saturday.
Farmers had taken to the streets in protest after millers reduced the price from $70,000 per tonne to $65,000 per tonne for paddy and further reduced it to $60,000.
At Saturday’s meeting, the Minister assured farmers of the Government’s support toward the growth and development of the sector.
Mustapha held meetings at Yakusari, Lesbeholden, and Auchlyne on the Corentyne following days of protests by rice farmers demanding higher prices for their paddy from millers in the region.
While at Yakusari, Mustapha told the farmers that the Government recognises the importance of the industry and has been taking the necessary steps to improve the sector. In Black Bush Polder, he added, rice farmers are now seeing higher yields following the Government’s intervention since taking office in August 2020.
“As a Government, we recognise the importance of this rice industry. That’s why, in places like Black Bush Polder, we are now seeing increased yields. This was a very low-yielding area. Now farmers from Black Bush are cutting higher yields per acre because of the inputs and the interventions the Government has made over the last 18 months. Even with the flood relief, in Black Bush Polder, farmers received over about $400 million in relief. So you see how much input we’ve made,” the Minister said.
While addressing the farmers’ concerns about the recent reduction in paddy prices in the region, Minister Mustapha explained that the Government has been in constant dialogue with the millers on the matter but given the global increases for fuel and freight charges, the millers had indicated that they were unable to pay what was offered during the last crop.
He pointed out that millers had agreed to pay rice farmers $2264 per bag of paddy. Farmers currently get an average of 28 bags of paddy per acre.
“Now let’s talk about the prices for paddy from 2015 to 2020. In 2015, farmers were promised $9000 for a bag of paddy, and instead, they got $2200 per bag and were told rice is a private business. In the latter part of 2020, we saw an increase in the price of paddy. Last year, when there was a scarcity of paddy, one miller raised the price from $52,000 to $70,000 per tonne and today he cannot maintain that price. When I met with the millers, I spent close to three hours, pushing for them to pay farmers the $70,000 because it is better for the Government if you, the farmers receive more.”
“That’s why when we came back into office, we reduced D&I charges and land rental fees from $15,000 to $3500. We removed the VAT from agricultural machinery because we want the farmers to have more. Do you believe, as a Government, with the inputs and interventions made in the rice sector so far, we’d go and tell the millers to give you less? They are using the market rate and saying that there are a number of factors that are causing the reduction in prices but we’ve reduced scanning charges by $10,000 and the export commission that is paid to the Guyana Rice Development Board. We are now working to develop a wharf because the millers said the wharfing facilities are limited. Next week we’ll be signing of an MoU with the millers so that the Demerara Sugar Terminal wharf can be developed. With the mechanism there the paddy can go directly to the ship,” Mustapha explained.
Farmers on Saturday told this publication that they were being offered $60,000 per paddy by one Corentyne miller.
One farmer told this publication that she has already sold all of her paddy and received $70,000 per tonne and was preparing the land to go into the next crop.
Mustapha also told the farmers that for 2022, farmers and residents can look forward to a number of interventions that will improve the region’s drainage and irrigation and input costs for the agriculture sector.
“When I came here last year while we were preparing our budget estimates, I said Black Bush will have two new pumping stations. We signed the contracts and work has started. We are also rehabilitating the seed facility at Lesbeholden. Those works are almost complete so you’ll get your seed paddy right here in Black Bush Polder. We are also negotiating with our bilateral partners and I’m very optimistic that we’ll have the fertiliser cheaper for you. We are trying our utmost to find markets for you, to open more lands. Thousands of acres will come under cultivation,” he explained.
During the protest on Thursday last, a few persons were arrested by Police officers for disorderly behaviour but were released from custody shortly afterwards. The action by farmers to block the roadway on Thursday caused much inconvenience to persons in the area. Many were forced to park their vehicles and walk home.
On Friday Police increased their presence and only a few rice farmers had gathered at Number 43 Village.