AFC says Essequibo rice sector beset by a number of problems
By STABROEK STAFF | LOCAL | THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 8, 2011
The Alliance For Change says the inefficiency of the Dawa pump near the Pomeroon River is a cause for serious concern among other problems besetting the rice industry on the Essequibo Coast. This pump which channels water into the Tapakuma Lake and then into the main canal from where rice farmers have access is not being operated to meet the needs of rice farmers on the coast, the party said yesterday in a press release.
According to the AFC, the regional chairman and vice chairman have both stated previously that monies that have to be requested from Central Government are not available to operate this pump to maximum efficiency. Farmers have said, the release noted, that an inadequate supply of water causes the land to dry out and this condition brings about the growth of unwanted weeds in the rice field. When it is considered that rice is a crop that is highly dependent on an adequate and timely supply of water, “this situation is revealed as grossly untenable,” the AFC asserted.
Farmers have said too that in years gone by an efficient system of drainage and irrigation was maintained by rangers who did periodic checks on water levels to ensure that the supply was adequate. But today although there is still the existence of rangers, the efficient system of monitoring has completely broken down. There were even instances when rangers were implicated in the passing of shoddy drainage work, the party added.
The AFC also pointed out that there is a single bulldozer on the entire Essequibo Coast attached to the Drainage and Irrigation Authority and it is used to maintain the access dams that farmers depend on heavily but this bulldozer has been down for the last two months. The party observed that access roads are very important to rice cultivation and this unavailability of machinery to maintain these is “quite unacceptable.”
Another matter that the party found as a “source of bother” for rice farmers in Region Two is the lengthy period, sometimes up to six months, that they sometimes have to wait for payment from the millers. Farmers have also said that they are oppressed by the VAT attached to the cost of spare parts and other implements for tractors, combines and other equipment. They have posited that in the interest of agriculture production, the VAT attached to such spares should be reduced or even zero-rated, the AFC stated. Moreover, the party noted, farmers have said that they are completely at the mercy of the millers when it comes to the pricing of their product and the Guyana Rice Development Board should be more involved in this process to ensure that they have access to a just and equitable price.
Meanwhile, the AFC said its “Action Plan” for the rice sector is based on policies that will bring about a fuller realization of its potential and greater profitability. The “Action Plan” calls for regaining respect within Caricom, UNASUR and other international markets so that Guyana can be a reliable supplier of rice. The AFC also pointed to the need to provide access to low interest capital through the establishment of a State Development Bank which will support the rice farmers and the millers, as well as fishery and livestock farmers.
Another aspect of the AFC’s plan is to make planting and reproductive material available to farmers by the authorities, while GRDB, NARI and UG will be upgraded to produce higher yielding and better disease-resistant varieties and generic planting material so there will be less dependence on imported pesticides, weedicides and fertilizers. The party noted too that it will pursue the improvement of farm to market dams and roads and the overhauling of the drainage and irrigation system. Another aspect of the AFC’s “Action Plan” is to facilitate the manufacturing of value-added products such as rice cereals, rice milk and flakes for the local and international markets.
In the meantime, the AFC acknowledged that the rice industry on the Essequibo Coast is the lifeblood of the Region Two economy and an afflicted rice industry will have far reaching repercussions in the other sectors as well.