Government has a 'patchwork' approach to rice industry
Stabroek News
March 3, 2002

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Dear Editor,

Cleaning the gutter in front of your yard and expecting the flood to recede, without cleaning the outfall to the river, has to be a bad joke that no villager on the Atlantic Coast would believe. Yet this is what we observe in government policy for the rice sector.

According to my understanding of the industry, the production of paddy and rice requires individual effort, a collective responsibility, and an integrated approach by several players. For instance, small farmers need large farmers, millers and exporters for on farm services, paddy marketing and milling. Large millers need paddy from small farmers to feed their rice mills. Banks supply financial services to most of these producers. And government has a public role of research, extension, regulation, marketing information, and providing a fee based service for infrastructure services, such as drainage and irrigation.

Evidence suggests, however, that the Government of Guyana (GOG) has presented a 'patchwork' solution to the problems in the rice industry. By only providing relief to the small rice farmer (since when is ten million Guyana dollars (over US$50,000) small in Guyana?) and suggesting that the large rice farmer, millers and exporters should deal with mismanagement and "enron itis" is a clear signal that policymaking in the sector is misguided.

Arbitrarily excluding some players, without the use of sound financial and economic criteria, is evidence of ad hoc policymaking and poor management by government. It also indicates that the government does not believe that the sector is integrated, nor do they accept that the interest cost is not the number one problem in the sector. In fact, government's policy in this sector could be read this way: help (?) small farmers; give away the shop to the bankers, who would not be paying taxes, nor lending long term to the sector any more; and let the big rice millers, farmers, and exporters die. Besides, make no attempt to study the problem, but make statements about how good the sector is performing, as compared to 28 years, for this will suffice. Balderdash!

The funny joke in this situation is that no one has reported if with these interest rebates whether small rice farmers will now operate financially viable entities, paying their way for all the resources they use and at the same time make a profit. If this is the case, I applaud the policymakers; but I do not believe that this is the outcome, for government does not understand or appreciate why profits are necessary.

Meanwhile, evidence suggests that the rice sector is not internationally competitive nor is it financially viable and there is work to be done at several levels to fix the problem. An agenda could be made to address these issues but the government is not interested in real solutions, for 'patchwork' is their mantra and this must be avoided, or back to the future is inevitable.

Recently, Gitanjali Singh reported that several rice mills across the country (56 out of 101 (55 per cent) were closed). While no information on milling capacity was presented, it is likely that 61, 62, and 77 per cent of the mills on the East Coast/West Berbice, West Demerara and Corentyne are not working. So did I hear bottleneck, or is it 'patchwork', or both?

Yours faithfully,

Dr C Kenrick Hunte