The Guyana chronicle never ceases to amaze
me, now I am not telling anyone to go out and buy this rag but due to my
position I am forced to buy it and worse I am forced to read it to execute my
obligations as an MP and a media owner/commentator.
So tonight I want to refer to the Chronicle
which they dared to publish in this country on Sunday May 17th 2009!
Specifically I want to address the
headlines on the front page "Rice industry sees bumper yields. In spite of
Knowing that our first rice crop this
year was far from bumper, I decided to look at the entire article; I want to
remind you that I am referring to one issue of the newspaper only i.e. May 17th
2009, inside on page three I read that my friend and fellow parliamentarian Mr.
Dharamkumar Seeraj is quoted as saying that despite unseasonal rains this year's
spring crop which runs from November to April recorded higher yields when
compared to last year's.
Over 30 years ago we decided in sugar
that we should stop calling the first crop of the year the spring crop' and
instead we would call it the first crop and the next crop later in the year we
would call it the second crop, since calling our crops spring and autumn' crops
in Guyana after independence made no sense since we are not afflicted by the 4
seasons of the year in this country.
So what I am doing here is not attacking
Seeraj, but addressing this matter of the Chronicle putting a spin on a
situation and bowling themselves out.
If unseasonal rains has contributed to improved
yields then clearly our irrigation and water management systems need
overhauling since what we considered as unduly wet conditions was actually
beneficial to the rice crop earlier this year.
Then we come to the first wrinkle in the
story, the article says that rice from Region 6 [East Berbice] was being
transported across the Berbice Bridge to be milled in Region 5 which had a shortage
of paddy because fifteen thousand acres of rice paddy was destroyed by
the rain earlier this year in Region 5!!.
So here we have the first discrepancy;
we had bumper yields but in Region 5 we lost 15,000 acres of rice paddy due to
the heavy rains! I wonder what the farmers who lost this massive amount of
paddy in Region 5 have to say about all of this.
The Chronicle article, which I remind you
tells us that bumper yields are the order of the day, it turns out [when I
began to decipher the underlying story of what happened in our first crop this
year 2009] that the only thing bumper about all of this, was a bumper to bumper
road accident, in other words a head on collision!
But the story isn't finished as I
continued to examine this head on collision, I became aware that in Region 4
Demerara/Mahaica Mr. Badal's mill which was so controversial a few years ago
was prepared to buy a significant amount of paddy from Region 3, but we are
told in this Chronicle article that even though Mr. Badal was prepared to buy
the paddy and the Ministry of Works had given permission for it to cross the
Demerara Harbour Bridge, we are informed by the Chronicle article that this
operation could not be completed to help the farmers since the unseasonal rains
had not allowed for the preparation of their farm-to-market dams adequately,
one is therefore left to wonder if the farmers couldn't bring the paddy out of
the back dam, where is the paddy now?
Ladies and gentlemen, the saga gets even
more ridiculous, I am not sure what Seeraj told the Chronicle but in the
newspaper I read this and I will quote it he [Seeraj] is alleged to have said
that quote "farmers had go through the additional strain of harvesting their
paddy which almost severely disfigured the condition of their field and will,
in the long run, result in farmers being unable to carry our dry land
preparation to harness the full nutrients of the soil" end quote.
Ladies and gentlemen I leave this to you
to decipher this nonsense, but what I gather from is that the farmers were
forced to reap the paddy in their fields under such severely wet conditions
that they literally had to destroy their fields to reap it and it was therefore
quite a costly operation, which will reduce the fertility of their land. This
revelation in an article headlined as "bumper yields" leaves, even me,
The heavy rainfall in the fist part of
this year is not the government's fault but to diminish the difficulties which our
poor rice farmers had to face this last crop in this manner is unacceptable;
and telling them that they will benefit in the long run is ludicrous.
Then we come to the most damming
declaration of all, the Chronicle tells us that Mr Seeraj said and I quote "the
good news is that even though the heavy rains will cause a shortfall in
production target, Guyana will not be adversely affected as the low cost being
paid for the staple worldwide had slowed the export market somewhat and
therefore we are not in any danger of losing any of our markets overseas
because we have no sizeable commitment" !!? He added that "the local
consumption will not be affected; in fact we will have a surplus since the
price has come down substantially"
I am not even going to try to equate
shortfall in the first crop with bumper yields I will leave that to Prem Misir,
but apparently according to Mr. Seeraj the European buyers for our rice who
purchase an estimated 60% of it are now operating on quote "a small contract
level, since the they lack assurances from their banks in Europe and North
America" this raises a serious question ladies and gentlemen, who exactly is
buying our rice, which is of such huge national importance to our economy? Are
we dealing according to Mr. Seeraj with a few small operators in Europe whose banks now have them on a short leash? Is that acceptable to our farmers? who
are risking all they have on what amounts to a gamble? We have a Minister of Trade,
what is he doing? Just looking after birds and tourism? There is no tourism in
Guyana just ask the people who own the now bankrupted Shanklands and Barakaria
resorts to mention only two.
Now we come to the final paragraph of the
piece, now remember that at the beginning we were told on the front page that
bumper yields were the order of the day, here is how Mr. Seeraj ends his
release to the chronicle and I quote him "this crop is the worst crop because
we went into it with high input costs and [ended up with] lower buying prices
on the export market"
Over and over ladies and gentlemen we
were told that the economic meltdown in the rest of the world will not affect
us here in Guyana, well this recent debacle in our rice industry tells the true
story, it has! There has been no formal international market for our rice
negotiated before the farmers planted their crops and now they are in serious
But in the end we see that Mr. Seeraj,
who I have said is my friend, was forthcoming and honest with the Chronicle and
they distorted the man's message to put the government in a good light by
zooming in on a small area which had a better yield than usual despite the high
rainfall; otherwise globally around Guyana the first crop 2009 was an
unmitigated disaster for our farmers, high cost of production and nowhere to
sell their produce.
I wish that the saga ended there but in
the same newspaper on the same date on page 18 under the caption "Farmers are
suffering, Mr. President --RPA asks that you make culprits accountable"
Here again we hear this same Mr
Dharamkumar Seeraj the General Secretary of the Rice Producers Association is alleging
that he was forced to witness from coast to coast in Guyana that rice farmers are
in agony and distress along with their families because of the immense loss of paddy
crops and he is asking the President to address a number of problems. I have
summed some of them up this way.
- Incompetent/dishonest administration on
the part of the government officials is causing massive hardships in the
- Failure to provide adequate
infrastructure to bring out the paddy during the crops by waiting until
the rains come to try to repair badly rutted dams.
- Lack of proper assistance by government
to secure markets and to secure some sort of economic buffer protection
for the farmers when the price dips as it did between September 2008 to
- Seeraj is asking that the President
intervenes in a situation where monies which were identified for the
agricultural production drive are derailed and misused by quote "at the
administrative and or service levels of government"
- Access dams, he advises, have to be rebuilt
with a better foundation due to the new heavy equipment now being used by
There is more
but I will stop here.
Sugar is in
trouble with this first crop 2009 producing less than the first crop 2008 and
2008 produced the lowest production since 1991 so all of the indicators is that
this year may be worse than 2008 and now the rice industry is also in trouble.
Is anyone paying attention?