Each day brings bad news for rice farmers and the A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) has shamelessly left them on their own to face the onslaught of El Niño. The rice crops in Leguan and Wakenaam have been totally lost. In West Demerara (Region Three) and in Regions Two, Five and Six, thousands of acres of rice have been lost because of drought. The Agriculture Minister has not found the time or the need to address the plight of the rice farmers. Neither has the Prime Minister nor the President availed themselves to address this national crisis.
Since APNU/AFC has not even bothered to hide the indisputable fact that they have become a military Government, we can use a military term – they are AWOL (Absent Without Leave) as the rice industry is being decimated by an El Niño drought. Indeed, as rice farmers battle the drought, APNU/AFC is acting as if there is no drought, totally ignoring the farmers’ plight.
We cannot blame APNU/AFC for the drought. Guyana is victim of a climate change phenomenon, similar to other countries, where extreme weather is having major negative impacts on people and economies around the world. But this does not excuse APNU/AFC from the total abdication of their duty to provide support to farmers to save their crops or to deal with the economic losses they are suffering because of the drought.
In moments such as the present, when farmers are fighting for survival against drought, the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) would have been helping farmers – either save their crops or to deal with the economic losses. The PPP would have had their Agriculture Minister, the Prime Minister and the President in their communities, “foot-to-foot”, seeking solutions to save the crops or finding ways to ease the economic losses that farmers would inevitably face.
The PPP did not succeed 100 per cent in meeting the needs of the farmers and farmers were often brutal in their criticism and demanding the PPP did more. But all farmers would concede that through thick and thin, the PPP Government stood with them. In the worst drought conditions, they found ways to save crops and when there were losses, the PPP found ways to provide financial relief. I recall APNU/AFC deemed these relief programmes as “handouts” to farmers.
The truth is that the rice industry is a critical component of the economy and should not be a political football. But APNU/AFC, like its parent body, the People’s National Congress (PNC), always target rice farmers because they view them as supporters of the PPP. The rice farmers are merely collateral damage as the APNU/AFC wage war against Jagdeo and the PPP. This is a classic case of biting off your nose to spite your face. In refusing to support the rice farmers, it is not the PPP that is affected, it is the whole country.
The abandonment of the rice industry by a spiteful Government is not only evident today as the drought brings dismay to farmers every day. This abandonment has been evident from day one on the assumption of the Government by APNU/AFC in May 2015. Rice farmers to this day are owed for paddy they sold to millers. APNU/AFC contends that those debts are as a result of private transactions. This is true, but the Government has a responsibility to intervene on the farmers’ behalf, including in making interim payments.
APNU/AFC promised that Mexico would replace the Venezuela market which they clumsily lost. Farmers and the Guyanese public should not hold their breath. The Prime Minister who boasted that he found a new market has gone silent on the subject. No one is addressing the issue as to when this market will kick in and no one is saying what kind of price Mexico will pay Guyanese farmers. At the same time, APNU/AFC is silent about damaging value-added manufacturing by our millers since Mexico has only promised to buy paddy and not rice.
At the same time, the Government has given as a reward, a $800 million contract to one of their financial backers to supply fertilisers at a cost of $5000 per bag, a price higher than farmers are presently buying fertilisers for. This is not only a bitter pill for farmers to swallow, but is 100 per cent corruption that someone should go to jail for.
El Niño has brought great challenges for the rice farmers who know that this is nature at work. While they accept that the drought is nature, they know that their plight is man-made as they have been made enemies in their own country by their own Government.