GEORGETOWN, Guyana, May 12 (GINA) — Minister of Agriculture, Noel Holder, today, committed to adopting a motion brought to the National Assembly, which examines the current state of the rice industry, and outlines several measures for the industry’s sustainability — if the MP who laid the motion considers revising some of the content.
The motion brought by Opposition Member of Parliament, Irfaan Ali, proposed nine measures, which he said will rescue the industry. These include resuming the talks and negotiations with the government of Venezuela, the removal of all forms of taxes and duties on fuel for the industry and removal of all taxes on input for the industry including machinery, equipment and spares.
The motion also calls for government to commence discussions with all commercial banks lending to the industry, to review terms and conditions of loans, taking into account the low prices farmers are getting, in order to “soften” repayment conditions, to suspend payments of land leases and drainage and irrigation charges, and to lay a supplementary provision in the National Assembly to provide financial support to farmers in order to aid in the purchase of seed paddy and fertilizer.
Other aspects of the motion cater for immediate implementation of minimum export prices for rice and paddy, implementation of an aggressive marketing strategy in order to enhance prices and secure new lucrative markets and the withdrawal of the pronouncement that the rice industry’s crisis “is a private matter”.
Minister Holder told the House that it was possible to attempt the removal of the taxes on the fuel, if one can relate the quantum of fuel used for field operations on a per acre basis.
He urged the Rice Producers Association (RPA) to collaborate with the officers at the Ministry to present a proposal for the removal of the duties and taxes on the fuel, in such a way that the fuel is not hemorrhaged into society at a great loss to the government’s coffer.
He also committed to commencing discussions with the banks on the loan repayment conditions, adding that government was prepared to import fertiliser and make it available to farmers at the lowest possible prices, and that the Guyana Rice Development Board (GRDB) continues to seek markets for the country’s rice.
The measures outlined in the motion that did not find favour with the Minister, include the one that called for resumption of negotiation with Venezuela.
Minister Holder noted that given the prices of oil and the serious economic problems Venezuela faces as a nation, it would be inconceivable that deals that are comparable in volume and prices of the past will be achieved again.
He also noted that the contract with Venezuela was revoked by that country in spite of government’s effort to resume shipment.
He said that the call for the immediate implementation of export prices for rice and paddy could not be effected because Guyana’s rice production is only 0.161 percent of world market price, which means that Guyana is not in a position to dictate world market terms.
He also resisted the call to suspend payments of land leases, noting that the farmers of the Black Bush Polder and Tapakuma Schemes of the past were irresponsible by not paying their D&I fees. This resulted in the deterioration of the schemes, and government had to intervene by accessing Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) loans to resuscitate them, the Minister noted.
The Agriculture Minister also urged stakeholders to end the bickering, and work together for the benefit of the rice farmers.
In laying the motion, Ali had called for rice to be viewed as government business and for government to play a role in it.
The Opposition MP called for government to provide the key elements such as the provision of infrastructure, development of human capital through education and public health, investments in research and technology, and determine policies to aid the sector, which he noted was in crisis.
Rising to support the Opposition MP was several members from his side of the House, including Cornel Damon, Zulikar Mustapha, Priya Manickchand, Anil Nandlall and Dhramakumar Seerj.
Seerj was still addressing the Assembly when the House sitting was adjourned, this afternoon. The House is expected to pick up where it left off, when the sitting resumes on May 24.