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General Secretary of the Guyana Rice producers Association (GRPA), Dharamkumar Seeraj told the Chronicle that these difficulties have arisen because a significant number of rice mills countrywide have closed their operations because of financial problems. At the same time those that are in operation are unable to handle the existing volume of paddy that has been harvested so far for this crop.
He reported that rice farmers are very disturbed about both the slow intake of paddy and the low prices being offered, and are unanimous in their call on Government to take steps to increase milling capacity.
However, he said the Government was making efforts to ease the backlog of paddy to be milled by getting the closed state owned Burma Rice Mill into operation through a lease arrangement, but that has not borne any fruit so far.
Seeraj disclosed that in Region 5 six mills have closed their operations while in Regions 6 and 2 the number is four and two respectively. This has led to severe inconvenience and loss of income to rice farmers in that they have to line up for excruciatingly long periods at the mills to unload their paddy and the price has dropped to just about $1,100 per bag as compared to as much as $1,400 per bag during the previous crop, depending on the grade.
According to him the current price for paddy is not economical for farmers and one of the worrying consequences of this is that a significant number of farmers may “fall out” of the rice industry during the next crop because they would not have the financial capacity to replant.
Over 161,000 acres of rice lands were cultivated for the present crop and so far about 63,000 acres have been reaped, yielding some 1.8 million bags of paddy, Seeraj reported.
The projected target for this crop was 4.7 million bags of paddy, however, there would be a shortfall because of lower output in several areas including Leguan, Wakenaam, Mahaica and Mahaicony Creeks, Crabwood Creek and Black Bush Polder which were adversely affected by a shortage of irrigation water as a result of the prolonged dry season, Seeraj said, adding that it would not be possible at this stage to determine the extent of the projected shortfall in production.
Apart from the water shortage, another hampering factor was paddy bug infestation which resulted in an estimated four to five percent of rice grains being damaged.
Seeraj disclosed that on the Essequibo Coast an estimated figure shows that about 16,000 acres have been reaped representing 50% of cultivated lands, and yielding some 500,000 bags of paddy, while the comparable figures for other areas are: Wakenaam-630 acres or 28% producing 11, 000 bags; Leguan-1,100 acres or 45% producing 31.000 bags; West Demerara-6,000 acres or 48% producing 172,000 bags; Region 4-5, 800 acres or 93% yielding 155,000 bags, Region 5-24,000 acres or 33% producing 650,000 bags and Region 6-9,500 acres or 23% yielding 300, 000 bags.
The national average yield of 29 bags per acre represents an increase by one bag compared to the previous crop, Seeraj noted, and attributed this mainly to good weather and better crop management by farmers.
Harvesting of this crop should be nearly over by the end of this month when an estimated 90-95% of cultivated lands would be completed.
Responding to a question of whether this situation will result in a shortage of rice for both the local and foreign markets, Seeraj replied in the negative, assuring that there will be adequate quantities to meet local and foreign needs, and that local retail prices wll not go upwards. He noted too, that there has been a slight increase in the price for rice on the international market, ranging between US$210-US$215, compared to US$205-210$US last year.
Guyana currently exports rice to Jamaica, Trinidad, Eastern Caribbean States, and Europe which is the largest importer of the commodity.
Seeraj also pointed out that exporters of rice will soon be at an exhibition in Jamaica to promote Guyana’s rice and to meet with prospective buyers seeking more markets. This is being piloted by the Guyana Rice Development Board.