The government intends to inject $5 million into the rice industry in hopes of helping farmers get into the fields and boost production, which has been dormant for the past seven years.
Agriculture Minister Kazim Hosein made the promise while meeting rice farmers at the Farmers Choice Vegetable Mart, Old Southern Main Road, Caroni on February 23.
The money will be used to rehabilitate and repair paddy field access roads, irrigation and drainage canals and other supporting infrastructure works, as well as land clearing and drainage/irrigation improvements.
Commenting on the decision, a paddy grower said that this investment will definitely help him and develop the industry.
“Over the years, we have left the fields for more than six to seven years, so all the infrastructure needs to be upgraded,” said Kelly Doodnath.
“The main problem we face now is to come back after such a long time, we have serious problems with the seeds that the ministry promised to provide us with first.”
Doodnath said the machinery would require a lot of maintenance as it depends on other farmers to harvest its crop, bringing the industry back to where it was.
“But we are happy that they (the government and the ministry) are taking this initiative to revive the rice industry because it is important that we provide at least some of the rice, given what is happening in the world with food. that we consume here. We have land, resources and technology for this.”
Doodnath said that the boom in the industry has left many rice farmers so far because of many problems plaguing them, one of which was delayed payment by the government. He said farmers would have to wait about 14 months before receiving their first payment.
“Rice is basically a six-month crop, all investments should be prioritized from the moment you start planting. So when you take a product, harvest and try to start another business, you will have no money and you will be out of pocket. This has seriously affected our cash flow.”
Doodnath said the investment to grow the crop could be around $150,000, excluding the cost of the harvesters. According to him, some of the farmers took loans from the Agricultural Development Bank (ADB) because they did not pay on time and faced difficulties in repaying the loan.
Doodnath said these farmers are asking ADB to either write off their loans or take back the equipment they bought.
He said other infrastructure issues such as drainage and access roads are being repaired by farmers. According to him, drainage was not his biggest concern as most of his land is in the Karoni Plain, where the Ministry of Works and Transport works in the area. But he said the “final nail in the coffin” for the industry was the devastating floods of 2018.
“Before the big flood in 2018, most of us had rice to harvest and the ministry compensated all the farmers for their vegetables, but the rice farmers were not paid a cent from this disaster,” he said.
He said he planted 120 acres of rice, which would yield about 3,000 to 4,000 pounds of rice, which at the time would cost between $1 and $2 per pound. This would amount to a loss of between $300,000 and $900,000 as the rice was ready to harvest on the same day as the devastating floods. Doodnath said he wishes rice farmers were treated with more respect.
With the ongoing move to reduce food import laws by 25 percent by 2025, Doodnath said he believes TT can reduce the amount of rice imported.
The ministry said TT imports about 95 percent of its rice, while only five percent is domestically produced.
According to the CSO, TT’s rice imports for 2019, 2020 and 2021 were over 126,000,000, 136,000,000 and 146 million dollars, respectively.
In 2019, TT reportedly consumed 34,000 metric tons of rice and in 2018, National Flour Mills (NFM) purchased 585 metric tons.
Asked if he thought TT could produce rice on a large scale again, Doodnath said, “We used to do it in the past and even exported it. We still have the capacity to do that, and one of our advantages is fairly young farmers and a lot of mechanized operations.”
The statement said that Hosein promised to meet with the officials of key stakeholders – Ministry of Trade and Industry, NFM and ADB – to discuss issues facing them and the sector in order to resolve the issues raised by the farmers.