Rice farmers living on the Essequibo island of Leguan are to sue the proprietor of Leguan Rice Mill Inc, Rajendra Ojha over
Rice farmer Mahendra Tularam
the monies owed to them for their paddy over an extended period.
The dry-weather conditions caused by El Niño coupled with the expiration of the lucrative PetroCaribe Venezuela rice deal have continued to deepen the crisis within the rice industry, but farmers are adamant that they must be paid for their produce.
Guyana Times understands that a meeting was recently held between the Rice Producers Association (RPA) General Secretary Dharamkumar Seeraj and the farmers, during which they vented their frustration. It was pointed out by farmers to this publication that “no definite word” has been conveyed to them on the way forward and as such, they would be proceeding on the legal route to get payments.
“Recently Seeraj came here, but we nah hear no word that’s why they decide to tek action,” a frustrated farmer stated.
It was further noted that there was a breakdown of communication at a previous meeting between the farmers and the miller. It was alleged that the proprietor of Leguan Rice Mill Inc challenged the farmers to “summons him” if they wanted their payments.
“We had a meeting once, but he seh he na got money; he get pay; he get money for the paddy and he convert the money to he own use,” one stakeholder stated.
On March 1, Guyana Times reported Ojha saying that farmers were not paid as a result of the difficulties rice millers were facing.
“If we nah get rain, we can’t work; actually it’s about eight-nine months we struggling, abbe owe everything, abbe owe farmers too,” Ojha had expressed.
He had also opined that if the Venezuela oil for rice deal had continued, the industry would have stood a better chance as millers would have more funds in their coffers and farmers would have received their payments.
This publication was informed at that time that despite the many complaints, millers have been obtaining success in finding alternative markets for the rice to be sold. Ojha had, however, observed that more assistance should still come from Central Government.
“The Government said last year they give $23 billion for rice farmers, but we nah hear back nothing more – this year budget they say $6 billion. In the PPP Government, they used to help we with some loans, but this Government not helping,” the rice miller had expressed.
This newspaper also related that many of the commercial banks were reportedly reluctant to offer millers re-financed loans.
On this issue, Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo had told Guyana Times that after his meetings with farmers on the Essequibo Coast, the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) had made several recommendations to the Government on the best measures to sustain the deteriorating rice industry.
“We made nine recommendations as to how they could help the rice industry survive. They have not even looked at those recommendations, some of these don’t cost any money to the treasury,” Jagdeo had stated.
It was explained that many rice farmers would have taken out loans, with some pledging their homes and other assets which have led to some becoming bankrupt.
The former President had observed that this situation occurred twice in this country previously and posited that in previous times, loans were allowed to be re-financed.
“We allowed the commercial banks to re-negotiate their loans without a penalty, without it being classified. The banks did that, they gave a write-off on the part of their interest and some on principal and they restored the loan, so people had longer to pay and they saved their houses [and] saved their equipment.”
“This Government could tomorrow do that, it would not cost them a cent, but they just don’t have any desire to do it,” emphasised the former President.
Another recommendation given to Government was to “waive the taxes on input or for Government lands on the MMA [Mahaica/Mahaicony/Abary] scheme where people have to pay their rentals for the land.”
The former President had surmised that helping the rice millers through “credit facilities” would be one of the ways of facilitating the payment of farmers on time. In the meantime, farmers have continued to complain about the threat to their livelihood.
During a visit to Leguan in February, Guyana Times was told that a depleted rice acreage in addition to non-payment by millers forced many farmers to withdraw money from their savings while others had to sell off significant portions of their livestock.
Arjune Raghuber said that the miller owed him $350,000 while 29-year-old Mahendra Tularam claimed that he was owed $730,000. Tularam had called for the enforcement of the Rice Factory Act which he opined would compel millers to pay what was owed to farmers. The farmer had further explained that millers should pay half of the money to farmers in two weeks and the rest was supposed to be paid in 42 days.