With the rice industry set to begin its peak harvesting season by the end of September, another large crop is expected, according to Agriculture Minister Dr. Leslie Ramsammy.
Briefing the media on Saturday, the Minister said that initiatives have been put in place to address the challenges faced by farmers with low yielding fields. “Whilst we have begun to have an average of about 35 bags per acre, in the farms, some farmers have been having over 40,” he stated.
The number of farmers with high yield fields has more than doubled, the Minister added and only a small number has been realising low yields.
As part of a six – point plan, Minister Ramsammy explained that there are no interactions between the high producing farmers and their low- yield counterparts so that ideas can be exchanged with the goal of upping crop production.
“We want to determine what are the reasons why your neighbour has a high yield and you’re having low yields. It couldn’t be the soil because you both are on the same soil.”
The Minister said that the aim is to at least have “low yield” farms attain the average national production level.
The desire is not to increase farming costs, but to improve techniques, the Minister said. “By increasing your yield, you’re lowering your cost of production and therefore becoming more competitive on the world market…your ability to compete on the global market must see production above 30 bags per acre. At production of 35 to 40 bags per acre, you can compete with anybody in the world for markets”.
Addressing the issue of payments to rice farmers, the Agriculture Minister revealed that the first crop for 2014, realised in excess of $23 billion in paddy being sold.
He made it clear that no farmer was owed money from the 2013 crops. “There were some farmers who were not paid, but those would have been the miller-farmers, because they owed themselves, and I’m not counting them”.
The Minister estimates that under $250 million is owed to a small amount of farmers for 2014.
“In the case of one group in West Demerara, a large part is owed to the group itself. Those who bought paddy, bought from themselves, and they bought from others. They have paid the others off, but they owe themselves. Neither the bank nor the Ministry of Agriculture will take responsibility for that. They’ll have to figure out how they pay themselves.”
The Agriculture Ministry is working to ensure that small farmers are paid off before the current peak of the harvesting season begins. He explained that, previously, when the Ministry could have assisted due to the fact that the Venezuelan market for rice was about 70% of local production and those resources could have been used to pay off farmers, “we were the payers and we could have paid directly to the farmers, whatever we owed to the millers.”
He explained that while the amount sold to the neighbouring country has not decreased, it is now a smaller percent of the overall market which has expanded. “That amount is not enough to ensure that we pay off the farmers.”
With regards to markets for rice, Dr. Ramsammy said the local market consumes 120,000 tonnes, annually, the bulk of which is returned to the fields as seed material, while some is also used in stock feed and beverage production. The high crop production means that there must be markets found for 500,000 tonnes of rice.
The first shipment of packaged rice to Panama is being prepared and the company that does 120kg packaging has been contracted to do this, with the Latin American country making its own shipping arrangements, according to the Minister. He said that four shipments are contractually due to Panama this year and the private sector is also shipping separately to the country, with more than 25,000 tonnes in total expected to be shipped.
There are also other arrangements being made to ship about 10,000 tonnes monthly to Africa, through a trade group, Minister Dr. Ramsammy explained. The focus is currently on premium markets and as production increases, the regular priced market will be tapped into, he said. There is also a renewed focus on value added products such as cereals and even paddy husk, formerly discarded as waste product, will be utilised to see maximum use of all products and by-products. As part of this effort, the Agriculture Ministry is in partnership with The Energy and Research Institute of India and the Institute of Applied Science and Technology, locally. “We want to ensure that everything that leaves the field is utilised and the farmer benefits, from those additional revenue streams….By 2016, the revenue from rice will be more than rice itself”, he asserted.(GINA)
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