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Trinidad suffers drastic decline in rice production

By Shaliza Hassanali

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(TRINIDAD GUARDIAN) — Lo­cal rice pro­duc­tion dropped from 21,000 met­ric tonnes in 1992 to just 585 met­ric tonnes last year, a Joint Se­lect Com­mit­tee (JSC) chaired by An­tho­ny Viera heard from Na­tion­al Flour Mills (NFM) chair­man Nigel Ro­mano yes­ter­day.

Ro­mano, who gave a break­down of the quan­ti­ty of rice pro­duced in tes­ti­mo­ny be­fore the JSC on State En­ter­pris­es, said in 1992 NFM pur­chased ap­prox­i­mate­ly 21,200 met­ric tonnes of pad­dy from farm­ers. By 2013, the fig­ure plum­met­ed to 2,859 met­ric tonnes, then to 1,893 met­ric tonnes in 2015 and last year, NFM bought just 585 met­ric tonnes.

Grade one pad­dy fetch­es $2.99 per kg, while farm­ers col­lect $2.85 per kg for grade two. Ap­prox­i­mate­ly 34,000 met­ric tonnes is con­sumed in T&T an­nu­al­ly.

NFM CEO Kelvin Ma­habir ad­mit­ted that the com­pa­ny’s rice mill at Carlsen Field is op­er­at­ing at 15 per cent ca­pac­i­ty be­cause of in­suf­fi­cient pad­dy.

In an­swer to a ques­tion from JSC mem­ber Fazal Karim, Ma­habir said “95 per cent ends up as in­put in­to an­i­mal feed, while five per cent is used for hu­man con­sump­tion. Karim said those watch­ing the meet­ing on tele­vi­sion would con­clude “that there is a de­lib­er­ate at­tempt by NFM to close down the rice in­dus­try.”

Ro­mano said the rice mill has no fa­cil­i­ties for pro­duc­ing par­boiled rice. He said they have iden­ti­fied an in­vestor to up­grade the mill and es­tab­lish a par­boil­ing fa­cil­i­ty which would help in­crease lo­cal pro­duc­tion and its vi­a­bil­i­ty.

“With­out that, any at­tempt to grow and pro­duce more in Trinidad, we would end up in dif­fi­cul­ty. We would be sup­ply­ing some­thing for which there is very lit­tle de­mand,” Ma­habir said.

Ro­mano said the mill will be able to process 12,000 met­ric tonnes of pad­dy an­nu­al­ly, and the Min­istry of Agri­cul­ture will give farm­ers tech­ni­cal ad­vice and train­ing.

JSC mem­ber Lester Hen­ry asked if rice is an im­por­tant com­po­nent of NFM’s pro­duc­tion, to which Ro­mano replied: “It’s not part of our core busi­ness.”

Mem­ber Wade Mark said he be­lieved farm­ers have be­come frus­trat­ed­with NFM not pay­ing them on time, a prob­lem which he says has been go­ing for months. Ro­mano agreed there is room for im­prove­ment with the com­pa­ny’s pay­ment process.

“What ex­plains 3,000 met­ric tonnes in 2013 to slip to 585 met­ric tonnes in 2018? Some­thing has to be wrong. Some analy­sis must be made by the Min­istry of Agri­cul­ture and NFM. If this con­tin­ues in three years there will be no pad­dy and farm­ing com­mu­ni­ty. I don’t know what is the game plan,” Mark said.

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