… reduced earnings affecting livelihood – farmersThe ongoing financial challenges in the rice industry have forced many farmers in Region Five (Mahaica-Berbice) to abandon the sector and resort to cash crop cultivation. During a recent meeting with Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo, residents of Baiboo, Mahaica, East Coast Demerara explained that due to the current low prices for paddy, they are forced to plant cash crops. The farmers however noted that although they are resorting to cash crops, it has reduced the amount of money they can earn since there is a surplus on the market.“De greens selling cheap… then the rice farmer dem getting hardship to get price for paddy,” one farmer expressed.Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo addressing residents and farmers at Baiboo, Mahaica last weekSome of the less lucrative crops identified were bora, tomatoes, pepper and ochros. Meanwhile, farmers of Mora’s Point, Mahaicony River, complained that they are finding it difficult going into the next crop since they are still owed millions by the miller in the area. After listening to their concerns, the Opposition Leader stated that Government has not done enough to assist rice farmers and to an extent, the industry.“They have some resources that could still be spent on the rice industry; the first budget they passed, they put $23 billion for the rice industry, I was happy [but] it wasn’t a cent – it was a paper transaction. They just passed the PetroCaribe funds through the budget,” Jagdeo noted.The Opposition Leader also deemed the transaction as “misleading” to the National Assembly.Ever since the collapse of the PetroCaribe rice deal with Venezuela in May 2015, farmers have been receiving between $1800 and $2500 per bag of paddy. Under the PetroCaribe agreement, farmers had received premium rates for their paddy, as much as triple what they are currently obtaining. Rice millers have reportedly claimed that they cannot pay the balances because they have not been able to sell the farmer’s paddy.When Guyana Times interviewed several farmers in Branch Road, Mahaicony last month, they reiterated calls for the Venezuela-Guyana deal to return, saying that it would increase their earnings in price per bag of paddy. The farmers had noted that for the previous few crops, they were unable to achieve any substantial profits from the industry.Family members of some farmers had also told this publication that Government subsidies on fertilisers and equipment were necessary for their survival.“We need a better price, we need some help to go back into the field, because right now it very hard on farmers, right now the millers owe we a set of money and we can’t go back into the field,” Tajwantie Ramotar had noted.Though the PetroCaribe deal was due for expiration in November 2015, Venezuela had axed the rice deal months before the official due date. Under this deal, Guyana was required to pay upfront a percentage of the cost of fuel acquired from Venezuela, with the balance, which was placed in the PetroCaribe Fund at the Bank of Guyana, being treated as a loan repayable over 23 years, with a two-year grace period and two per cent interest.