Tony Vieira's Comments
18 October 2017

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When you spin and bowl yourself out
(Aired 29 May 2009)

 

   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 unseasonal rains"

 

   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, speechless.

 

   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 trouble.  

 

   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.

 

  1. Incompetent/dishonest administration on the part of the government officials is causing massive hardships in the rice industry.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 now.
  4. 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"
  5. Access dams, he advises, have to be rebuilt with a better foundation due to the new heavy equipment now being used by farmers.

  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?