…blames farmers for deterioration Farmers in Region Five (Mahaica-Berbice) continue to struggle with not only the increased cost of rentals on their leases, but traversing roads that are difficult and in most cases impassable.The state of one of the dams the rice farmers must use at Onverwagting, Region Five (Mahaica-Berbice)At the same time, those 2346 farmers have racked up a cumulative debt of nine hundred and seventy-two million, two hundred and thirty-six thousand, two hundred and seventy-two dollars ($972,236,272) to the Mahaica/Mahaicony/Abary Agricultural Development Authority (MMA-ADA) for land rental for the years 2016 and 2017.This breaks down as follows: 1632 farmers, for the year ended December 31, 2016, owed the MMA/ADA five hundred and sixty-three million, six hundred and ninety-four thousand, two hundred and forty-three dollars ($563,694,243); while 1526 farmers, for the year ended December 31, 2017, owed that entity four hundred and eight million, five hundred and forty-two thousand, and twenty-nine dollars ($408,542,029).These prevailing challenges facing the farmers were confirmed by Agriculture Minister Noel Holder in written responses tendered in the National Assembly in answer to questions posed by People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Member of Parliament Dharamkumar Seeraj. This PPP/C MP had asked the Minister to provide information on what assistance Government has been giving farmers for farm and market access roads in the MMA/ADA scheme and across the rice belt.In response, the Agriculture Minister had said there are 30 miles of all-weather road and 760 miles of fair weather access roads for which the MMA/ADA was responsible to maintain each crop.Holder cast blame on the farmers for causing deterioration of “all the roads” by means of their machinery which is used to maintain and harvest crops. This, he said, is coupled with rainfall throughout the seeding and harvesting seasons, having noted that repairing dams during the rainy season is near impossible.“…the MMA/ADA has procured materials valued $6 million (crusher run, loam and white sand), which is being used by the Authority for (effecting) repairs to the critical sections of the all-weather road. Also, 80 miles of fair weather access (roads) were repaired to enable farmers to harvest their crops,” Holder had responded.He also outlined that several million dollars have been spent on assisting farmers through the National Drainage and Irrigation Authority (NDIA), the Regional Democratic Council (RDC), the Neighbourhood Democratic Council (NDC) and the Water Users Association (WUA).It was noted that the RDC had spent $31.4 million on upgrading dams in Region Five, while the Water Users Association had spent $4.7 million on upgrading dams.The MMA/ADA had, in 2017, increased land rental rates, but this development was met with widespread condemnation from farmers and the PPP/C.Rice magnate Beni Sankar had commented last year that the increases would not help to ease the challenges farmers were facing, as many producers who did not cultivate 25 bags per acre did not clear the minimum wage. He contended that this resulted in discontent and complaints.Sankar had reasoned that financial problems sweeping farming communities could lead to dire societal effects, including an increase in alcohol consumption with its concomitant social problems.Farmers are paid by millers according to the grade of paddy produced, ranging from A to C. However, for the last few years, farmers have been paid between $1500 and $3000 per bag of paddy. This has been coupled with challenges such as paddy bug infestation. Several farmers on the Essequibo Coast recently had to burn 100 acres of rice which were overtaken by paddy bugs.Meanwhile, Region Five rice farmers have protested the increases in land rental rates. In March, a group of irate farmers had gathered outside the Agriculture Ministry, where they vented their frustration over the hikes. The Agriculture Ministry announced the increase in land rent from $3500 to $15,000 per acre, which represented a 600 per cent increase; and other rates have been hiked from $1000 to $7000.The MMA/ADA has also stated that the fee was implemented so that it could take care of drainage and irrigation. Minister Holder, in his response, said farmers owed more in land rental before the 2017 increases.