Farmers overcome paddy bug in autumn crop
-prices reach $1700 in Berbice

Stabroek News
November 5, 2002

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Despite the loss of 43,000 acres of land due to inclement weather and poor land preparation at the beginning of the autumn crop, rice farmers across the country have been able to enjoy good returns for their paddy.

The Guyana Rice Producer’s Association (GRPA) had set a target of 180,000 acres of land to be cultivated but only 117,000 was planted, mainly due to bad weather.

General Secretary of the GRPA, Dharamkumar Seeraj, told Stabroek News that in Regions 2, 3, 4 and in parts of 5 and 6 harvesting has been completed. Seeraj said that because of some flooding during the earlier stages of the crop a number of acres were not cultivated and some were cultivated very late. He said that at present there is still some harvesting taking place, especially in the Black Bush Polder area. And in Region Five there is still about 250 acres to be harvested in the West Berbice area out of a total of 10,350 acres which were sown, while in Region Six there is still about 1800 acres to be harvested.

Seeraj said farmers have already finished preparing 104,040 acres for the spring crop and the target is 180,000 acres. He hoped that because of the present dry conditions they would be able to come close to the target - somewhere in the region of 165,000 acres out of a total of 192,000 acres of available lands.

Seeraj said land preparation is still ongoing and irrigation will commence on November 10. He said while in Regions 4, 5 and 6 farmers’ lands are not ready for irrigation, the process has already started in Regions 2 and 3. Seeraj reported that the quality of paddy harvested for the autumn crop was of a higher quality than that of the spring crop. He said the GRPA had done extensive work in assisting farmers in purchasing chemicals for the control of paddy bugs.

In addition farmers also received better prices for their paddy: “Relatively speaking we had good prices, but in areas like Essequibo where the competition was not so high in terms of purchasing, prices remained the same throughout the crop,” Seeraj said.

Farmers in Essequibo had received some $1300 for a bag of paddy, while in Regions 4,5 and 6 prices fluctuated throughout the crop ranging from $1400-$1700. At the initial stage of harvesting, farmers in those three key regions had received some $1400 per bag of paddy - a significant increase over last year’s $1200. Seeraj said in Regions 5 and 6 the competition was very stiff.

This was because in those two areas most of the lands were not cultivated due to flooding which resulted in millers competing for about 50% of the amount of paddy normally cultivated. He said this created the competition, and as a result farmers began to receive $1400 per bag of paddy at the beginning of harvest and as it came down to the end $1600 and $1700 per bag.

Conversely in Region 2 all of the land was cultivated but two of the major millers were not in operation.

In addition, Seeraj said the average yield in Essequibo was 28 bags per acre, Region 3 and 4 - 29, Region 5 - 26 and Region 6 - 23.

He said it was proven that farmers who spent more time in farm management turned out higher yields. Seeraj said he spoke with farmers about the last crop and their overall comment was that the seminars and training that were done by the GRPA and the Guyana Rice Development Board (GRDB) assisted them tremendously.

The two agencies had conducted some 28 seminars and training on field demonstration and the safe use of mist blowers as well as the proper calibration of chemicals. Additionally Seeraj said the GRPA, along with the Ministry of Agriculture and GRDB had supplied to farmers over 9000 gallons of chemicals at a subsidised price to assist in paddy bug control. He said that the feedback they have received from the farmers is that they want a continuation of the programme, where they can access chemicals at a cheaper price.

Commenting on the rice relief package that was proposed by the government some time ago, Seeraj said the process has not gone the way he had expected.

On January 31 last year President Bharrat Jagdeo had announced that an agreement was reached between the government, the Guyana Association of Bankers and the GRPA, in relation to rice farmers who owed a principal debt to various banks of $10 million or less from August 2001.

Seeraj said “there are different views and sometimes conflicting views from some of the bankers and farmers. What we are prepared to do is to organise a more broad-based meeting between bankers and farmers and to this extent on November 9 the management of the Guyana National Cooperative Bank (GNCB) would be meeting with farmers of Region 5 so as to clear up whatever misconceptions they might have had.” Seeraj said the bankers are claiming that the farmers are not repaying their loans promptly, while the farmers are saying that the bankers are not responding in a timely manner to their requests and their submission of the necessary forms that were agreed upon.

He said that the time-frame given for the farmers to repay the loans is ten years and this he considers reasonable. He mentioned that there are some cases where the farmers’ debts have gone so high that it is impossible for them to repay it given the acreage that is being planted. Meanwhile, President Bharrat Jagdeo told rice farmers during a recent visit to Essequibo that his administration is prepared to work out packages with individual borrowers to restructure their loans. According to a Government Information Agency (GINA) press release, the President said farmers who owe the banking sector a principal amount of more than $10 million and have difficulties making repayments will benefit from government’s assistance.”

“If banks are willing to move forward then we are prepared to give some tax break to the banking sector - that is on the repayment of the loan; then the banks would not have to pay corporate tax,” the President said. The relief package provides for waivers on interest on non-performing loans with outstanding principal to be suspended and eventually written off over an agreed period if the debt is being satisfactorily serviced. (Nigel Williams)