The Ministry of Agriculture has responded to the Peoples National Congress Reform's recent press statement describing it as an attempt to discredit the work done by the Peoples Progressive Party Civic government since 1992 in resuscitating both the sugar and rice industries.
According to the Agriculture Ministry, the records illustrate the mismanagement and neglect by the PNC regime of both the rice and sugar industries.
It was stated that when the PNCR left office, the performance of rice and sugar as well as the wider agriculture sector had reached their lowest point ever.
In 1990, rice production was 93,444 tonnes and exports had been reduced to 50,943 tonnes, while in the sugar industry, 129, 920 tonnes were produced in 1991. According to the Ministry, farmers can recall the time when no infrastructure and inputs were available for their activities.
“If the PNCR was serious about contributing to policy and programme ideas it would have used every opportunity it had in the National Assembly to participate, rather it stays away when important issues in the Agriculture Sector and other national matters are being debated, but then subsequently at a press conference it voices false, spurious and unconstructive statements.”
The Ministry noted that the entire country recognises that there will be a period of belt-tightening in the sugar industry as it makes the transition to a more efficient industry in the face of the impact of the EU price cuts and the impact of climate change among other factors.
“It is unfortunate that when the PNC has the opportunity to contribute to the debate in the National Assembly on the amendment to the Rice Factories Act, it again stayed away; but it now makes loud pronouncements on the efforts of the government without making any serious suggestions or recommendations on what should be done instead.”
The Agriculture Ministry stated that the bill to amend the Rice Factories Act was never intended to increase production or to allow for better prices for farmers.
“On the other hand it was designed to protect farmers from the few unscrupulous millers who continued to violate the trust that farmers placed in them.”
It was pointed out that, “Obliviously, the sector was enjoying increased production before the tabling of the bill. Therefore it is ridiculous for the opposition to relate the bill to direct production.” The Agriculture Ministry stated that the opposition would have been better informed if they had attended Parliament. It was explained that the Bill cannot be seen as a punitive measure but rather one that serves to ensure that equity is achieved in the industry.
“The amendment to the legislation was not done in isolation but through countrywide consultations and received the overwhelming support of the majority of the millers.”
In what it called setting the facts straight, the Ministry stated that prior to 1992 there were few varieties of rice available for farmers to cultivate. The varieties were low yielding and farmers only received 20 to 25 bags per acre. Since 1992, Guyana Rice Development Board has released 10 high yielding rice varieties with excellent milling and cooking qualities.
“It is imperative to note that blast resistant genes were incorporated in all these varieties to combat the most destructive rice diseases which caused farmers tremendous loss during PNC regime. Using the high yielding varieties produced by GRDB, farmers across the country are now harvesting in excess of 40 bags per acre.”
The statement added that some farmers have already harvested over 50 bags per acre. It was pointed out also that farmers are currently benefiting from genetically pure seeds produced via the maintenance breeding programme of the Rice Research Station, Burma.
“This programme is comparable to similar programmes around the world. Through the initiative of the Minister of Agriculture, collaborative rice research programmes are in place with international institutes in various countries such as Suriname, Colombia, India, Philippines. Further, Guyana currently possesses one of the most organised rice breeding programmes in South America.”
The Ministry argued that the general public could judge the integrity and sincerity of the concerns of the PNCR when it questions whether the new Venezuela market has benefited rice farmers in the manner promised by the administration.
“It is indeed mind-boggling when such a question is asked and the agreement has only been signed a few days ago and the officials from Venezuela are in Guyana finalising pre- loading/shipping arrangements. Is the PNCR serious or should its statements be seen in the wider ongoing vicious competition with the AFC to criticise and misrepresent government policies, programmes and achievements?”