By Devina Samaroo, Shemuel Fainfair, Indrawattie Natram and Andrew Carmichael
The El Niño weather phenomenon is currently ravaging rice farms across Guyana. In some cases, many rice
The merciless dry spell compounded by high costs of production meshed against record-low prices for paddy, rice farmers are further crippled as their crops continue to perish, resulting in massive losses.
In Region Two (Pomeroon/Supenaam), one of the major rice producing districts in the country, farmers believe they are suffering the worst from effects of the drought conditions.
Despite receiving low prices for paddy, some farmers risked the chances of earning a profit in the harshest of circumstances.
Others decided to play it safe by sitting out the current crop since they deemed it a waste of time, effort and money to attempt to battle the truly unruly weather conditions. They related that the rice industry is facing “serious blows” and it would be unprofitable.
Presently, long stretches of rice lands in the Somerset and Dunkel areas are completely vacant.
Female farmer Sandra Mahadeo explained to Guyana Times that she did not venture to plant this year because last year’s crop was disastrous.
“Me can’t go blindly investing into this crop. We aint mek nothing last crop. The price we received could not even offset our expenses,” she stated.
In fact, a great percentage of the rice fields were not put under cultivation owing to the low prices offered which ranges between $1800 and $2000 per bag of paddy.
Prompted on whether they would pay better prices given that there is less rice in the system, most millers staunchly replied in the negative. According to one miller, speaking under condition of anonymity, last year’s rice is still in the system owing to unavailability of markets for the bumper crop. Therefore, purchasing more rice would just add to that stock, thus resulting in additional surplus.
“I would personally like to assist all rice farmers and offer a better price but I can’t do so if the markets aren’t available,” the miller noted.
Another miller from Ex-mouth Village related that he will be purchasing paddy but not in large quantities, practically for the same reasons.
Petro Bharahally is a large-scale farmer who hails from Maria’s Delight, Essequibo Coast, and owns about 175 acres of land. He told Guyana Times that his main issue was with the pitiable drainage and irrigation systems in the region as well as the long overdue payment from millers. He asserted that it appears nothing is being done to alleviate the problem.
Over 2000 acres along the Essequibo Coast have been burnt due to the lack of irrigation which were reportedly neglected by the Regional Administration but when the water was finally released via the Dawa Pump Station, it was intruded by salt water which damaged the lands.
In the latter part of January, over 20,000 acres were also under threat owing to inadequate irrigation.
The Good Hope and Riverstown drainage and irrigation structures have major faults (leakages) and efforts were not made to address the issues, resulting in over 8000 young plants perishing.
Farmers from the Cozier Agricultural Scheme also complained of not receiving water in their fields. As a result, a handful of farmers incurred huge expenses to pump water into their fields whereas the others despaired and left the crops to die.
Meanwhile, Regional Chairman Devanand Ramdatt in an invited comment explained that some drainage and irrigation structures were vandalised and no works were done to remedy them.
Nonetheless, he noted that the water shortage crisis needed to be tackled in a holistic way, which would require involvement of key stakeholders, including central government.
The situation is no different in Region Three (Essequibo Islands/West Demerara) – another major rice producing region.
The island of Leguan boasts 4000 acres of operable rice lands however, only 40 acres were under cultivation and 20 acres of this amount were later destroyed.
In Wakenaam island there are 5000 acres of operable rice fields but only 200 acres were cultivated of which 50 acres were razed by the harsh drought conditions.
Both islands do not have the conservancy water storage system; so consequently, farmers resorted to the salt water from the Essequibo River which they mixed with the “sweet water” reserves in the trenches to quell the lands.
Rice farmers there are also suffering from the depleted rice acreage coupled with the money owed by millers.
Arjune Raghuber of Leguan explained that he is owed approximately $350,000 while Mahendra Tularam is owed close to $1,000,000.
But rice miller Rajendra Ojha explained that farmers are not paid due to the difficulties which millers are also encountering.
Farmers in Crane, Hague, Ruimzigt and Windsor Forest on West Coast Demerara are also facing similar hardships.
Although these areas have a conservancy system, water level remains low.
Contacted for a comment, Regional Chairman Julius Faerber explained that moves are afoot to sectionalise the water in the conservancy.
Regions Five and Six
Across in Region Five (Mahaica/Berbice) and Region Six (East Berbice/Corentyne), the current situation in the rice industry is having a negative impact on the local banking sector thus affecting all other industries in the regions.
Farmers are now being paid for their paddy at a price lower that production cost. At $2000 per bag of paddy being offered by most millers, some farmers are now not able to service their loans.
In 2015 commercial financial institutions were forced to reschedule loans to farmers in the rice industry in an effort to keep rice farmers in business.
About 70 per cent of farmers in Region Five are financially committed to Republic Bank while in Region Six farmers are split mainly between and the Institute of Private Enterprise Development and Republic Bank.
A random check at another financial agency revealed that seven of eleven rice farmers who would have taken a loan in December have not paid a dollar on it, the lowest loan being $1.8 million.
According to an official from the institution, bad debts are mostly to persons in the rice industry. “We are not an agriculture bank, we give loans to every sector; we are not even situated in an agriculture area and look what is happening,” the official said.
Asked whether these loans will be rescheduled, the official said the institution had not taken a decision yet nor has Central Bank given any advice on what should be done with accounts of rice farmers which are, “in the red.”
Meanwhile some of the millers are seeking working capital from the banking system. But the $13 billion debt racked up by the industry, and considered bad, has put bankers off. Overdraft facilities, which amount to more than $3 billion annually, are also being curtailed.
Players in the industry continue to clamour for government to obtain a concessional loan to refinance the industry’s debt. Farmers and millers both feel that if the rice industry fails the economy will sink.
Rice farmers in Black Bush Polder (BBP) are receiving two-thirds of the minimum price they can accept for their paddy as harvesting has commenced in Region Six while flood waters remain a concern to rice farmers in that community.
The situation is quite frightening, with most farmers telling a similar tale of not being able to plant and the desperate need for water.
Ruth Semple, a rice and cash-crop farmer with 120 acres of rice cultivated at Blairmount last crop and a further ten acres under cash-crop at Gelderland, Ithaca, says only 40 acres are under rice cultivation for the current crop.
“This is because we don’t have the water, and the only source of water we have there is from the Heritage; the estate [GuySuCo] block off the water. We have a Koka there that Sam Hinds put down so that the estate will have to give us water. That is the only source of the water.”
For this crop, Semple says Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) has refused to give them water, citing the need for water to take care of the cane fields.
Regional Chairmen David Armogan and Vickchand Ramphal have both expressed grave concerns over the current situation and have assured that all angles are being explored to bring some form of relief to the farmers.