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Opposition promises Essequibo rice farmers improved payment system

APNU+AFC Prime Ministerial candidate, Moses Nagamootoo (backing camera) greets attendees at a rally held Saturday night at Damon Square, Anna Regina, Essequibo Coast.

The opposition coalition Saturday night promised the largely rice-dependent Essequibo Coast that it would examine ways of ensuring that lowly-paid farmers receive higher prices for their paddy and that they get a fair share from sales to Venezuela.

Prime Ministerial candidate Moses Nagamootoo appealed to the rice farmers to vote in favour of a government that would bring an end to “vampires” who were paying meager prices for paddy while the country’s coffers earn billions of dollars from grain sales to Venezuela. “You don’t need a reason for a change in government. You need a new government that would change the laws so that prices are guaranteed,” he told more than 4,000 persons at Damon Square, Anna Regina, Essequibo Coast.

Nagamootoo supported calls for the establishment of a Development Bank from which millers could borrow to pay farmers. He endorsed calls for farmers to be given a major say in managing the rice industry through the Guyana Rice Development Board (GRDB) and remove discrimination about the allocation of quotas.

The concerns and promises were earlier made by, among others, prominent Essequibo businessman Sam Bacchus and hotelier and rice miller, Robert Badal at a rally held at Damon Square, Anna Regina.

It was on the Essequibo Coast that rice farmers had last year blocked roads with burning objects to vent their frustration at the long-delayed payments by millers. Several of the farmers were tear-gassed, arrested and prosecuted.

Addressing the largest diverse and multi-ethnic gathering that the opposition has attracted so far for the May 11, 2015 general elections, Badal empathized with farmers who receive “directed and dictated” prices.  Noting that he does not pay farmers GUY$500 per bag of paddy but instead offers GUY$3,400 or GUY$3,200 per bag and that farmers receive full payments, Badal expressed optimism that farmers could be treated better.

 “I believe that a lot better could be done to remove the discontent, to remove the rift between millers and farmers. It takes inspired leadership and direction and that’s what our two leaders – David Grangrer and Moses Nagamootoo will bring to the fore,” said Badal, the Pegasus Hotel’s owner, who publicly endorsed the coalition of A Partnership for National Unity + Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) at the rally. 

Naitram, a member of the Essequibo Paddy Farmers Association, told attendees that farmers should be paid at least GUY$2,800 per bag instead of being handed out GUY$500 by “fat cats” who sell rice and paddy to Venezuela through an agreement with the Guyana government.  The AFC Councillor for Region Two (Pomeroon- Supenaam) called for farmers to be adequately represented on GRDB. “We want to see genuine rice farmers from each region representing farmers’ interest. It is time for a change,”  said  Natram who was among those who had been charged with protest-related activities.

Bacchus, a rice farmer and miller, was critical of the manner in which he said government was subsidizing the rice industry from higher prices for paddy and rice being sold to neighbouring Venezuela. “If the Venezuelans give us the subsidy then I feel that it should be shared with all the citizens of this county not a handpicked few,” said Bacchus, a rice farmer and miller, who was a well-known supporter of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP).

Bacchus, whose father is rice magnate Imam Bacchus, advocated that the subsidy be removed totally and that the industry be dictated by market forces.  “A partial subsidy on any industry is a recipe for trouble because the government makes its feels that everybody can get the  price that the Venezuelans are paying,” he said.