Rice output up in 2006, despite challenges
-- Minister reports
January 14, 2007
RICE production in 2006 significantly improved over 2005 despite the challenges the industry faced, including the impact of flooding, Agriculture Minister Robert Persaud has reported.
He gave the update to the National Assembly Thursday when piloting the second reading of the Rice Factories (Amendment) Bill, which passed after a contentious debate.
Mr. Persaud informed the House that production of rice in 2005 was 273,237 tonnes while in 2006 this figure increased to 306,828 tonnes. Export figures for the two years were 182,175 tonnes and 204,296 tonnes, respectively, he said.
The export value was US$46.2M and US$54.4M for each respective year, and Persaud indicated this improved performance was due mainly to increased yields which moved from 63 bags of paddy to 72 bags per hectare. He said there was also intensified training for farmers in both pre and post harvest management.
He gave the report in rejecting a claim by Mr. Anthony Vieira of the People’s National Congress Reform–One Guyana (PNCR-1G), who claimed that under the present government rice production and the rice industry have been on the decline.
Persaud reiterated that the sector has been rebounding in recent times from the international shock of the late 1990s and the devastating effects of flooding.
Giving a historical background of the rice industry and its tangible contribution to the national economy, the minister recalled that rice was introduced into Guyana in 1882 by Indian immigrants who grew it on a small scale at the time, but production gradually increased and in 1917 Guyana exported its first shipment of rice which amounted to eight tons.
In 1964, the government formed the then British Guiana Rice Board with the government controlling all milling and exports, but in 1966 BGRB was changed to the Guyana Rice Board (GRB) and in 1985, the Rice Regulation of Manufacturing and Marketing Act dissolved the GRB which resulted in the formation of three separate entities – Guyana Rice Export Board (GREB), Guyana Rice Milling and Marketing Authority (GRMMA) and the National Paddy and Rice Grading Centre (NPRGC).
Persaud recalled that during this period prices were fixed by the state and the majority of exports done through the GREB.
However, he noted that by 1990 there had been unprecedented neglect of the rice industry which gave rise to despair among rice farmers, and, as a result they abandoned the rice plots and production declined so steeply that the government imported rice from Italy to meet local consumption demands.
With the advent of the present government in 1992, Persaud said the situation began to improve and production and exports continually increased and in 1995 the Guyana Rice Development Board (GRDB) was established replacing the three entities which were formed in 1985.
The GRDB was formed to monitor and facilitate the growth and development of the industry by developing the industry and promoting the expansion of exports, establishing research centres and engaging in promotional and developmental activities, Persaud pointed out.
He asserted that with the changing production climate, several millers seized the opportunities and used farmers’ production to finance their operations through a system where farmers were paid until the end of the season or after exports.
Consequently, in 1998 the government enacted the Rice Factories Act which sought to regularise the construction of mills, grading of paddy, purchasing and the overall quality of rice exports, the minister said.
In relation to the latter, Persaud informed the House, that additionally the CARICOM Rice standards were implemented in 2004 to facilitate domestic and regional rice trade, noting that prior to this regional rice trade was affected by serious quality-related challenges.
The minister also explained that loans offered to farmers in the early 1990s were reduced to a minimum due to serious problems in the industry which stemmed mainly from the unilateral closure of the lucrative OCT (Other Countries Territory) route by the European Commission (EC) which saw prices dropping as much as 50%.
As regards the closure of the OCT route, Mr. James McAllister, of the PNCR-1G, heaped blame on Home Affairs Minister Clement Rohee who was at that time Minister of Foreign Affairs, quoting from a letter written by the minister to the EC indicating that Guyana was not interested in a long term relationship with the OCT route.
However, Mr. Rohee, in his response, explained that the letter was written based on recommendations he received from the stakeholders in the rice industry.