As the El Niño conditions persist, the crisis in the rice industry has deepened since crops
continue to perish. Guyana Times interviewed rice farmers in Wakenaam; an island on the Essequibo River on Friday, who stated that the weather coupled with financial woes have caused many of them to abandon the industry.
Previously, farmers received $2500 for one bag of paddy, but actually made a profit of $2000 since $500 per bag was charged to transport their produce from the island to the coastland, as there is no rice mill on Wakenaam. Farmers are now receiving $1800 per bag.
One farmer, Ramkissioon, explained that out of 5000 acres, only 200 were cultivated and related that 50 acres were completely destroyed in this crop. He stated that because he is owed money by rice millers for the last two crops, several young men have been out of work.
“I used to employ six to seven persons throughout the year, all of them get 200 days leave now,” Ramkissoon stated.
Another farmer, Jaichand, 46, stated that he would usually plant 110 acres but only chanced 65 acres. Jaichand fears his entire livelihood is in jeopardy as he is still owed for his paddy.
“We are owed since last crop by Wazir Husain [to whom] we sold the paddy,” related Jaichand. He pointed out that without these payments, he cannot repay loans for equipment, noting he owes for diesel and cannot afford parts. Jiachand also observed that if the rice industry were to close on the island, residents would be greatly affected.
“Everybody [will be] out of jobs, everybody depend on rice,” the farmer expressed. He called for the Guyana Rice Development Board (GRDB) to provide assistance to cushion their plight.
He said that in the past, rice farmers would obtain assistance from the GRDB under the management of former General Manager Jagnarine Singh. Jaichand explained that current head Nizam Hassan engaged them in a recent meeting in which “a lot of promises” were made.
“We glad if the Government can assist we… people should get back seed paddy and fertiliser to go back into the rice industry,” expressed the farmer.
Jaichand called for a mill to be constructed on the island in addition to a well being dug so that “fresh water” can be pumped into rice beds as the salt water from the river is damaging the remaining rice crops.
Another farmer, Takur Persaud, said that he would usually plant 65 acres but planted only 15 – all of which were destroyed. He claimed that he is owed over $400,000 by various millers.
The crisis in the industry has led to some famers leaving rice cultivation altogether, with rising debt and loss of returns as the major reasons given.
Tareeq Ahmad, 38, another farmer who has been cultivating rice since 1995, said he was forced to stop cultivating rice and now focuses on cattle rearing.
“I was compelled to leave the industry because of the factors of the low price and we have to ship our paddy to Essequibo Coast. We sell to three millers – Hussein, Hack and Ramlakhan; they would take the paddy but would take out the transport cost from our profit,” Ahmad explained.
He stated that he lost $45,000 from capital investments and opined that Government should do more to represent farmers.
“When you’re a Government, you have to protect your people, your farmers are your backbone, you have to protect your investments in agriculture… you ought to represent the farmers and the millers,” Ahmad emphasised.
Bhawan Persaud who also abandoned the rice industry said he has now gone into mining pigs and works part time as a labourer. He estimated his losses at $200,000.
Recently, Guyana Times interviewed several farmers on the neighbouring island of Leguan who shared similar concerns over the crisis in the industry. On that island, out of a possible 4000 acres, only 38-40 were cultivated and of this amount, 20 were said to be destroyed. None of the islands has a water conservancy storage system and farmers are dependent on a consistent return of the rains to ease some of their burdens.