Pun­ish­ing rice farm­ers

Weekend Mirror - - FRONT PAGE - By Dr. Les­lie Ram­sammy

With

the A Part­ner­ship for Na­tional Unity/ Al­liance For Change (APNU/ AFC), ev­ery­thing is now a se­cret. The pro­duc­tion and ex­port statis­tics of rice and sugar, for ex­am­ple, are now State se­crets and only af­ter many months when we are able to sur­rep­ti­tiously ob­tain in­for­ma­tion are the real num­bers known. This is dif­fer­ent from the Peo­ple’s Pro­gres­sive Party (PPP) days when sugar, rice and other com­mod­ity pro­duc­tion statis­tics were de­clared on a daily ba­sis. Re­cently, we re­ported the sig­nif­i­cant re­duc­tion of rice ex­port. This is even as APNU/ AFC boasts about new mar­kets in Mex­ico and Cuba. But the truth is that the APNU/AFC lost the Venezue­lan mar­ket in 2015 and now it ap­pears they might have lost the Panama mar­ket also. The Cuban and the Mex­i­can mar­kets to­gether are not even one-third of the vol­ume pre- vi­ously ex­ported to Venezuela and Panama.

The con­se­quence is that there will be fur­ther re­duc­tion of the price farm­ers re­ceive for their paddy. I chal­lenge the Agri­cul­ture Min­is­ter, the Fi­nance Min­is­ter, the Prime Min­is­ter and their boss, Pres­i­dent David Granger, to guar­an­tee farm­ers that prices for paddy will not be fur­ther re­duced from the al­ready low prices they were get­ting in the first crop. Of course, APNU/AFC will in­sist that rice is a Pri­vate Sec­tor business and APNU/ AFC has noth­ing to do with the price. But they are the ones ig­nor­ing the loss of the lu­cra­tive Venezue­lan and Panama mar­kets and at the same time boast­ing about the Mex­ico and Cuban mar­kets.

For clar­ity, the Cuban mar­ket is not new. Guyanese millers had vol­un­tar­ily re­duced their ex­ports to Cuba as they pur­sued more lu­cra­tive mar­kets and Guyanese millers were for years al­ready sell­ing small vol­umes to Mex­ico. No doubt the Mex­i­can mar­ket has ex­panded and for this APNU/ AFC de­serves credit. But the truth is that both the Cuban and Mex­i­can mar­kets are sub­stan­tially lower-priced. They have never vol­un­teered the prices Guyana re­ceives for paddy sold to both Mex­ico and Cuba. The rea­son is clear – we ex­port paddy, not rice and Guyanese millers re­ceive less than US$250 per ton. Guyanese paddy is be­ing mar­keted for about GY$2900 per bag. Af­ter dis­count­ing for ship­ment and other charges, Guyanese farm­ers are barely re­cov­er­ing their in­vest­ments.

Dur­ing the ob­ser­vance of the death an­niver­sary of Forbes Burn­ham last month, with Moses Nag­amootoo obe­di­ently by his side, Pres­i­dent Granger vowed he will en­sure that the Burn­ham econ­omy and gov­er­nance will be re­stored. It was not the first time that Granger promised the re­turn of the Burn­ham legacy. He has been un­equiv­o­cal that he and his Govern­ment, with the help of Ru­pert Roop­naraine, Nag­amootoo, Ram­jat­tan, Keith Scott and oth­ers who were bru­talised by the Burn­ham regime, will re­in­sti­tute the Burn­ham legacy in Guyana. It was in­ter­est­ing that Ralph Ramkar­ran this past week high­lighted the un­mis­tak­able re-emer­gence of Burn­ham, with a vengeance, courtesy of Granger and APNU/AFC.

Much fo­cus has al­ready been paid to the on­go­ing ef­forts by Granger and his Govern­ment on restor­ing party paramountcy and au­thor­i­tar­i­an­ism. While some at­ten­tion has been paid to the Burn­ham-era rice and sugar dis­as­trous poli­cies, Granger and APNU/AFC have been sur­pass­ing Burn­ham in their anti-sugar and anti-rice poli­cies. The rice farm­ers are in part re­spon­si­ble for keep­ing the econ­omy from shift­ing into neg­a­tive growth rates. They in­vest about GY$30 bil- lion an­nu­ally in the econ­omy. Rice farm­ers are, in fact, the largest in­vestor in Guyana’s econ­omy. The rice farm­ers and their fam­i­lies ac­count for about 40-50,000 peo­ple who earn their liveli­hood from rice. In­di­rectly, about 100,000 de­pend in some way on the rice in­dus­try.

Yet Burn­ham de­lib­er­ately pushed rice farm­ers to aban­don the rice in­dus­try and Guyana’s econ­omy not only suf­fered, but this was one ma­jor rea­sons why Guyana’s poverty rate sky­rock­eted to be­tween 67 and 88 per cent. Clive Thomas can at­test to this truth be­cause

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