Minister at International Year launching, says
Guyana exports 70% of its rice
By Chamanlall Naipaul
Guyana Chronicle
January 13, 2004

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Minister Sawh launching International Year of Rice. From right: Mr. Nigel Dharmalall, Mr. DhanKumar Seeraj, the Minister, Mr. Jagnarine Singh, and Mr. Nazim Hussein of the Caribbean Rice Association. (GINA photo)
The Ministry of Agriculture yesterday officially launched the observation of the "International Year of Rice" in Guyana under the theme "Rice is the Grain of Life."

Minister of Fisheries, Crops and Livestock and acting Minister of Agriculture, Satyadeow Sawh, disclosed that the industry is the largest private sector activity in Guyana, employing more than 100,000 people directly and indirectly producing on average 320,000 tonnes of rice annually, 70% of which is exported to the Caribbean, Europe and elsewhere.

"Rice is therefore more than just an economic activity; it permeates the entire Guyanese society. And this is explicitly described by the FAO's definition of rice: Rice is a food-but more than just a food. It is society, culture, politics, business, the beauty of the landscape, people in their communities. In short, Rice is Life," Sawh stressed.

Speaking at the launch yesterday, he also alluded to the critical and important role rice plays in ensuring food security globally as well.

"The global rice industry stretches from Australia to Argentina covering all the continents of the world, employing millions of people, growing in a multitude of eco-zones, cultivated using numerous varieties and methodologies, and harvested to feed more than half of the world's population which depends on it to meet their daily energy requirements. Rice feeds more people than any other plant species on earth. It is for this reason rice is referred to as the world's staple," Sawh declared.

According to him, of the 365 million tones of rice produce globally per year, only 6% is traded on the world market, and any shortage therefore "threatens the very fabric of existence."

Sawh said the 57th Session of United Nations (UN) General Assembly in December 2002 recognizing the importance of rice, approved the request by the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) to declare this year a the International Year of Rice (IYR).

Dealing with rice in relation to Guyana the minister described the industry as one of the 'economic cornerstones of this country, spanning the entire coastal belt, from Pomeroon to Crabwood Creek, and even the hinterland areas in Rupununi, utilizing 140,000 hectares of arable land."

He acknowledged the Government's belief that the rice industry has a major role to play and reiterated its commitment to continue to put in place the necessary policies, infrastructure and institutions that are fundamental in meeting the vision of the industry which is making it an integrated, sustainable and profitable industry for the benefit of all Guyanese.

"let us all join and work together to overcome the challenges that face the industry, so that its true and full potential can be achieved for benefit and the benefit of future generations. It's the least we can do to vindicate the sacrifices made by our fore-parents who have toiled tiressly for over 120 years producing and exporting rice as part of their contribution so the development of this country and its peoples, Sawh concluded.

General Secretary of the Guyana Rice Producers Association (RPA), Dharamkumar Seeraj noted that the theme "Rice is Life" has more meaning in Guyana especially in the riverain areas where farmers have no alternative other than producing rice.

He is hopeful that during the observances this year the gap between farmers and consumers would be bridged, bring more awareness to the latter of the difficulties and challenges of rice production so that when there is an increase of the shelf price of rice consumers would not become antagonistic towards farmers.

Seeraj also said there is a need for farmers to have a decent living and a lowering of the cost of production through greater efficiency in production.

Caribbean Rice Association (CRA) Representative, Dr. Azim Hoosein observed that in order for the industry to be sustainable it has to be competitive, and expressed the view that there is need for diversification within the industry itself, pointing out that there is too much wastage in the production process of rice. He also urged that the quality of life in rural communities should be improved through the application of technological advances.

Chief Executive officer of the Guyana Rice development Board (GRDB), Jaganarine Singh disclosed that during the year of observances several activities have been planned including the preparation of a history of the rice industry, a Caribbean rice symposium, an essay competition for schools and an awards ceremony for outstanding players in the rice industry among others