…as farmers face rising production costsDespite the mounting challenges many in rice industry continue to face, Agriculture Minister Noel Holder is maintaining that rice is doing “much better” than it was a year ago.Speaking with the Government Information Agency (GINA), Minister Holder noted the challenges of heavy rainfall.“We had the tremendous rainfall and the National Drainage and Irrigation Authority (NDIA) was able to bring relief, tremendous relief to the coastland …. I think in Region Two [Pomeroon-Supenaam] and Region Six [East Berbice-Corentyne] and this brought tremendous relief flood-wise. Rainfall is on right now, as you know and flooding is not occurring… during El Niño… the NDIA was able to bring water by tapping creeks further upstream to give farmers relief on the coast. So of the areas planted, only about four per cent (of the rice crop) was lost due to (the) El Niño situation,” the Minister pointed out.According to Holder, for the first rice crop of 2016, some 91,072 hectares of rice was planted. At the end of March, 93,582 tonnes had been exported which is “six per cent more” than the corresponding period for 2015, which was 88,286 tonnes.The Minister explained that despite Guyana losing the PetroCaribe market it had with Venezuela, shortly after the coalition Government took office in May 2015, rice is in a much better situation as it relates to markets. He said Government has been exploring and establishing new markets and has been able to increase the market share for Guyana’s rice, “at prices above world market prices so the rice industry is not really in that much crisis as people try to say”.Amid calls by the Opposition People’s Progressive Party/Civic for Guyana to re-enter the Venezuelan rice market, the Minister said,President David Granger is open to negotiations with Venezuela on the establishment of a new rice dealAgriculture Minister Noel Holder“Guyana has met all the shipments to Venezuela, but Venezuela will not, bearing in mind the price of rice and oil prices now hovering around US$30 a barrel or slightly above, enter into a similar agreement.”However, President David Granger had outlined in his weekly televised “Public Interest” programme that his Government could look at reopening the rice deal with its Spanish-speaking South American neighbour, if negotiations go well with his Ambassador, Foreign Affairs and Finance Ministers. These fresh statements were a contradiction to earlier claims as posited by the Agriculture Minister.“I did meet with the Ambassador before she left for her post and I did say that we are interested in that market. It came to an end. The agreement came to an end and we need a new agreement. Both the Foreign Minister and Finance Minister are working at that, but we are also examining new markets in Latin America, including Panama and Costa Rica and Mexico. That is a clear objective and mandate given to Ambassadors,” the President noted.Holder also noted the recent Panama agreement for the purchase of 11,000 tonnes of rice. It was also noted that Guyana signed agreements with two Jamaican companies to purchase 80,000 tonnes of the country’s rice per annum. The companies have agreed to pay the Guyanese millers US$400 per tonne.However, parts of the Jamaica rice contract were lambasted with the expressed view that the deal was void of rationale, since the cheapest rice rates in Jamaica comes from the United States market which sells at US $550 per tonne.The Rice Producers Association (RPA) Action Committee Co-Chairman, Dr Turhane Doerga told Guyana Times in March that based on his assessment of the contract, if anyone else wanted to sell in Jamaica, they would have to sell at a minimum 1500 metric tonnes at US$475.“The US$75 per metric tonne is what the boys will be splitting among each other,” he had alleged.Many rice farmers have been complaining that $1800-$2000 per bag of paddy cannot pay because of rising maintenance costs, being owed by millers and hefty loan repayments. Farmers are also calling on Government to provide subsidies on fertilisers.Opposition Member of Parliament Irfaan Ali has called for a return of the subsidy on milling equipment which can also reduce rice production costs, thus easing some of the burdens in the rice industry.