Amid the impending collapse of the Venezuelan and Panamanian rice markets and low world market prices, the Guyana government is exploring the possibility of mixing rice flour with wheaten flour.
Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture, George Jervis told a National Rice Industry Conference that consideration to mix the flours was in its very early stages. “As regards the blending of rice flour and wheaten flour, it is under active consideration and I can tell you the discussions are ongoing,” he said. He said there was nothing stopping the private sector from pursuing such an initiative.
Jervis’ comments followed a suggestion from a rice farmer that mixing rice flour with higher quality wheaten flour should be the way to go to consume soaring production of the grain. Seecharran acknowledged that the mixing of the two flours “is a ticklish suggestion” and he appealed to participants to “forget about the politics and let’s think about the future of the country and the future of this industry.”
“Our rice going to Trinidad, going to Jamaica and they mix it and send it back right here and we buy it and we eat it and we say it taste good. Why can’t we do the same here?,” he said. He estimates that with a 50-50 flour mix, Guyana could save foreign exchange on wheaten flour purchases and find a ready market for at least 400,000 bags of paddy or 25,000 tons of rice.
The farmer’s reference to politics appeared to refer to the period in the 1980s when late President Forbes Burnham’s People’s National Congress (PNC)-led government had banned wheaten flour and promoted initiatives for the use of rice and cassava flours.
Newly-appointed Chairman of the Guyana Rice Development Board (GRDB), Claude Housty told the conference that rice flour is more nutritious because it has a higher digestable protein content, low calories and high fiber. The biggest drawback, he said, is the low gluten content that makes the flour difficult to bind and the products hard. “If you get health conscious go to rice flour, don’t worry with wheat,” he said. Housty noted that rice flour has been used to make pastries, bread, hot dog rolls, ice cream and Swiss rolls.
Housty said Guyana should seek help from the Philippines-headquartered non-governmental International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and the Global Rice Science Partnership to produce high quality rice, rice byproducts and value-added rice products.
Panama, which had been purchasing at least 60,000 tons of rice from Guyana, has cut back on doing so since the election of a new government of that Central American country.
Venezuela has also reduced the amount of rice it is importing from Guyana, leaving many farmers and millers to search for alternative markets in a world where the prices and cost of production are lower.