Lowest rice production in years

Grappling with millions of dollars in debts, local rice farmers say they have experienced their lowest yields ever and are blaming the government and the National Flour Mills.

Figures from NFM show that farmers produced only 126 tonnes of rice for 2018, compared to 2,800 tonnes in 2014. At present there are 30 rice farmers in T&T compared to more than 10,000 in the 1970’s and 80’s.

Richard Singh who cultivates lands in central Trinidad said the farmers are so frustrated that many of them were abandoning their estates. They have scheduled an emergency meeting at Warrenville today to discuss the productivity crisis,.

“Every quarter we have to pay ADB (Agricultural Development Bank). Flour Mills (NFM) supposed to pay us but they have not done so. The government owes us and they jamming us with heavy interest. I am owing $2.7 million to ADB but I have paid back $1.3 million. I never had loans before,” Singh said.

Another farmer from southeast Trinidad, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he was able to plant only 350 acres out of 647 acres.

“I just did not have money to do full-scale cultivation. Our loans are accruing interest. For this year I paid $600,000 in interest and I am still owing $1.7 million to the ADB,” he said, adding that the last time rice farmers got seeds from the government was in 2014.

“Back then the seeds did not germinate successfully. Because of seed quality, we are losing hundreds of thousands of dollars. We cannot see our way because of late payment by the NFM,” the farmer added.

Agricultural economist Omardath Maharaj said according to UN ComTrade statistics, T&T imported 37,843 tons of rice in 2014 at a value of approximately$ 143 million.

“In that year, total exports of the commodity was estimated at 336 tons at a value of $ 0.767 million. Annual paddy production averaged 2,569 tons per annum between 2007 and 2014,” jr said.

Maharaj said there was a need for revitalization, as farmers had invested downstream by bringing three of the more popular rice brands to market—Island Grain, Moruga Hill Rice, and Navet Lagoon Rice.

He called on the government to support production, milling, packaging, and marketing of locally-grown rice. One of the main challenges is the ability of the NFM to efficiently mill and convert all locally cultivated paddy into a finished rice product, he said.

Maharaj said there should be the development of a niche market for local rice.

“Trinidad and Tobago may not be able to compete with regional rice producers such as Guyana and Suriname in terms of volume, parboiled and white rice,” he said.

“However, we can develop and service a regional niche market for healthy, natural foods such as our brown rice. We can also bring more arable and currently idle and under-performing land assets into production with new rice varieties, methodologies, and extension support to increase productivity and income at the farm level.”

Source: www.guardian.co.tt (Radhica Sookraj)

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