BACKED by the PPP, rice farmers who protested along the Vlissengen Road entrance to the Agriculture Ministry yesterday have promised to continue this exercise indefinitely, until a reasonable solution is found by government to assist with the poor prices of paddy and a static market.
Some of their placards read: “RPA demands tax concession for rice farmers”; “Rice Industry is not only private, GRDB is state entity for managing rice”; “Mr. President, where is the $23B?”; “Farmers need tax free fuel”; “Renew the PetroCaribe deal for rice”; among other things.
Some who travelled from as far as Region 2 (Pomeroon-Supenaam) and the Upper Corentyne, Berbice, said they feel the new government has a responsibility to keep the APNU+AFC manifesto promises.
Meanwhile, Agriculture Minister Noel Holder has disclosed that the government may consider the option of providing rice farmers with certain concessions. The considerations will be made as preparations for the 2016 fiscal budget are in high gear. The farmers are pleading with government to work towards the restoration of an industry which benefits thousands of rice farmers across the country. The farmers are also citing the promise made by the APNU+AFC on the campaign trail to make payments of up to $9,000 per bag of paddy.
Rice Producers Association (RPA) General Secretary Dharamkumar Seeraj, who was leading the protest, said the industry is going through some tough times, and farmers were promised high prices for their paddy in the period leading up to the May 11 elections. Underscoring that promises were made for $6,000 to $9,000 per bag of paddy if the APNU+AFC were elected to office, Seeraj said: “now we have a situation where farmers are getting $1,500 and $1,600 per bag of paddy, which will lead to a crisis.”
Request for concessions
Adding that rice farmers have protested many times before, he said farmers are requesting concessions on fuel, spare parts, and government input to cushion the present crisis in the rice industry.
“A lot of the farmers have not been paid for paddy supplied since last March… Another issue is that farmers have started harvesting and are getting very low prices, and there is no way they can survive on the present prices they are being offered currently.”
He explained: “This will definitely affect the next crop, and they will be unable to pay mortgages; and those who have borrowed from the banks will be unable to pay their loans, which would cause bankruptcy. Banks will go after them because of the Financial Institutional Act; loans may have to be restructured along with many other issues to assist farmers.”
He said this kind of protest will be continued until they see favourable responses from the government.
“Government cannot say that rice is private sector and they don’t want to intervene, while they are intervening with fiscal measures for the gold industry. Rice is much bigger than that, since 120,000 people benefit directly and indirectly from the rice industry. Now they say they may be considering concessions for next year. But until then, many farmers will not be able to go back into the crop because of the tremendous loss,” Seeraj lamented.
He said the rice board is totally financed by the farmers. “So you can’t say to the industry that is totally financed by farmers that they are private sector, then you totally control it and not want to give support to farmers.”
By Rabindra Rooplall