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Rambharat: Poor yields not our fault

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Although there has been a sharp decline in rice yields for 2018, Agriculture Minister Clarence Rambharat says negotiations are ongoing for purchase of a new parboiling rice plant following the sale of the National Flour Mills’ (NFM) Carlsen Field facility. He could not give any more details except to say that NFM is currently negotiating the sale.

“The negotiations are way advanced. I am not at liberty to disclose anything. I can say that the final arrangement will include continued support to local farmers,” he said.

Responding to reports that T&T’s rice farmers had the lowest yields in the history of the country, the minister said he did not have actual production data but if productivity levels are low, Government and NFM were not responsible.

“I am not aware that NFM is responsible for losses. When I was appointed I met unpaid claims dating back to two years. When some the farmers submitted their claims through their attorney last year, it was obvious that these were very recent claims. There is a process to verify claims and make requests for funding to settle the claim. There is a time lag,” he said.

Farmers say they are owed millions of dollars by NFM and can no longer cultivate their entire acreages (see other story).

Asked whether it is feasible to plant rice when imports were cheaper, Rambharat said: “Rice is imported because we have a free market economy and the current price of local rice is heavily dependent on taxpayers subsidizing the whole value chain.”

He said $14 million has been allocated to meet NFM’s fees and the cost of the subsidy to farmers.

On the issue of planting rice for domestic consumption, Rambharat said: “Local rice production, even in the best periods of production when Caroni Limited produced rice, will not come close to meeting local demand. It is our hope that with the proposed parboiling plant there would be opportunities for local rice being available as parboiled rice.”

The minister added: “As I have said on many occasions, rice is the most supported agriculture commodity in the country. The land is leased at nominal rates; water abstraction licenses are provided at nominal rates; pumps are provided in the dry season; seeds are sometimes provided; the rice has a guaranteed price based on grade, and the State pays the milling cost to NFM.”

He explained that because T&T imports 98 per cent of its rice, “it is not possible to set a target because it depends on consumer interest in local white rice; farmers level of investment; yields; weather and other factors.”

He said Government wanted to have local rice production on lands already developed for that purpose, but there is a limit to the extent the State can cover the costs.


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