Liberalization of the economy has facilitated growth in the rice sector

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According to the RPA’s General Secretary, Mr. Dharamkumar Seeraj, the liberalization and free-trade policies initiated by the current administration has re-energised the rice sector and the support of the Government – directly and through the Guyana Rice Development Board (GRDB), has been intensive, extensive, and impactful; albeit many of the enabling synergies had to be strenuously fought for by the RPA.

Farmers gradually returned to the fields because the causes for concern that had driven them away from the industry were being addressed, to the extent that over 200 tonnes of Guyana’s cargo rice was being marketed overseas in the mid-1990s. That is, until January of 1997, when the EU incapacitated Guyana’s rice industry with a crippling blow by the restructuring of its import protocol.

Although climate change and other external factors have proven somewhat deleterious to the industry, by and large the rice sector is nowhere near the straits it was in 1990, when cargo rice export fell to an all-time low of 93,444 tonnes under the PNC regime, from the over 350,000 tonnes Guyana had been exporting in the early sixties during the reign of the first PPP government, with Brindley Benn as Minister of Agriculture.

The Government, recognizing the vital importance of sustaining the viability of the rice industry, has initiated several capacity-building and facilitating programmes to ensure that rice farmers can continue to till their land and optimize their profitability, although this is at times derailed by uncontrollable factors, such as the weather; or maverick rice-millers who are often recalcitrant in paying the farmers in a timely way.

Among the interventions made by the Government to alleviate the extant and emerging problems within the sector are:

• The removal of Value-Added Tax (VAT) on all basic food items: fertilisers, pesticides, spares for tractors, combines, as well as equipment that utilises the by-products of agriculture for power-generation;

• The removal of all taxes and duties on diesel;
• Reduction of excise tax on gasoline;
• Enhanced incentives for agriculture and food-production activities for farmers;

• A countrywide consultation on escalating food prices and the establishment of an Inter-Ministerial Committee on Food Prices to monitor the situation;

• The national “Grow More Food” campaign;

• Expansion of the Extension Services provided by the RPA in collaboration with the GRDB;

• Introduction of Farmers’ Field Schools;
• Increased and diversified research programmes by NARI.
Recently, the President has made available to the sector $400 million to mitigate the problems caused by factors affecting the productivity and the profitability of the rice industry.

Agriculture Minister Robert Persaud, during the commissioning of the Dawa Pump Station early in 2008, warned the farmers: “Generally, world food production has entered an uncertain and politically risky period, which is threatening world prosperity and achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) aimed at reducing global poverty and hunger. But all indications are that this high-price situation would remain with the world for sometime.”

The high prices for inputs have daunted some farmers, but most are resilient and, with the Government’s continued and sustained assistance, and the support of the RPA, many are prepared to stay the course.

Drainage and Irrigation is always under the Government’s microscope, and the continuum of interventions includes:

• Significant improvement in the operation and implementation of the flood control structures;

• Construction of additional drainage outlets countrywide;
• Major rehabilitation of approximately 600 miles of canals and drains, as well as the Dawa Pump Station;

• Rehabilitation of pump stations, structures and drainage outlets;
• Negotiations for financing to optimize efficiency and capacity of the conservancies, especially with the objective to maximize the availability of arable lands for farming activities;

• Installation of the Doppler Weather Radar;
• Expansion of the Hydrometeorological monitoring network; among others.

Two days ago, Agriculture Minister Robert Persaud told rice farmers at Mibicuri that $200M will be spent for the purchase of fertilizer to assist rice farmers.

He said the distribution exercise was delayed as many farmers were not being honest.

It should be noted that the rice sector is the second most important agricultural industry in Guyana, contributing about 40% of the agri sector GNP, or 12% of GDP.

Facilitated by Keith Burrowes through CIDA, support from BCCP concretized an RPA dream, of accessing to farmers top-quality seed paddy at competitive prices. Seeraj said that the Association is also working toward establishing fuel depots and importing fertilizer in an effort to reduce and stabilize, as much as possible within the constraints of world market prices and other factors, the price of inputs in agricultural production.

Guyana has, since the days of our ancestors, been producing enough food to feed ourselves. However, with the Jagdeo Initiative on Agriculture and Guyana’s “Grow More Food” campaign Guyana has entered a new dimension in food production and has broken grou
nds in vital markets.

Having lost some of our niche markets in Europe, our Government is not prepared to buckle under.

As in the case with sugar, when the EU tried to cut the ground under our feet with its restructured import policies and prices, Guyana’s policy-makers rose to the challenge and strategized to ensure that our rice sector emerges from every setback stronger and more competitive in the global arena.

The ground-breaking Venezuelan market is a case in point; and this is just the beginning of Guyana’s climb into a world player in agricultural products.