…Region 5 Admin supports farmers’ rejection of land rate increasesThe Mahaica/Mahaicony/Abary Agriculture Development Authority (MMA/ADA) Board has refused to honour an agreement to meet with representatives from the Rice Producers Association (RPA) to discuss Government’s decision to increase rates for land users.The RPA had been promised that the MMA/ADA Board will meet with them on Tuesday to discuss plans by the Agriculture Ministry to increase the cost of land rentals in the Region Five (Mahaica/Berbice) agricultural scheme.The team, headed by General Secretary of the RPA, Dharamkumar Seeraj went to the MMA office situated at Onverwagt on the West Coast of Berbice for the proposed meeting. However, shortly after, the team was seen leaving the building.Seeraj told this publication that the board did not honour a commitment made by General Manager of the MMA/ADA, Aubrey Charles to the RPA.The Agriculture Ministry is seeking to increase land rent from $3500 to $15,000 per acre, which will represent a 600 per cent increase and land rates from $1000 to $7000.Seeraj, before the proposed meeting, addressed scores of cash crop, rice and cattle farmers on the issue of the propose increases.RPA General Secretary Dharamkumar Seeraj addressing the protestersHe said these increases, if allowed to be implemented, will bring a great burden to the farmers in the rice industry; one which they will not be able to cope with.He said no one in the agricultural sector supports the proposal.“It is the high-handiness of the Minister of Agriculture to come to Region Five and impose that increase of $15000. How are we going to survive? How are we going to contribute to development? How are we going to contribute to the economy? How are we going to contribute to exports? How are we going to contribute to foreign exchange earning, if we are unable to cultivate to plant our lands? The Minister simply doesn’t understand this,” Seeraj said.Seeraj pointed out that if Government wants to go ahead with the proposed increases, then it should ensure that they get to $3200 per bag of paddy, which was promised to the farmers by the Coalition. Meanwhile, a letter is to be penned by the RPA to the MMA Board seeking a meeting with them.SupportThe Region Five Administration, on Tuesday, also signalled its support of rice and cash crop farmers on their opposition towards a decision by Agriculture Minister Noel Holder to implement increases in the rates MMA will charge them as land users.This was after rice farmers protested outside of the MMA office in Region Five over the decision to increase rates. The more than 100 protesters held placards expressing their disapproval over the unilateral way the decision was made.The farmers’ actions were aimed at the Minister and the MMA Board of Directors who were having a meeting at the time.Regional Vice Chairman, Rion Peters, addressing the farmers, assured them that the administration supports their call for the Government to rethink its proposal of increasing land rates by 600 percent.Regional Chairman Vickchand Ramphal said Agriculture Minister Noel Holder erred by not consulting with stakeholders before making a decision.“At the RDC we are in solidarity with the farmers of this Region, this proposed increased implemented will only create hardship among our people. This process should be done with consultation with our people. We should meet with them first and listen to what they have to say and then decide on whether we should increase or not. I am of the view and I am with the farmers that there should not be any increase in land rentals or D&I charges,” the regional Chairman told the protesters.President of the Rice Producers Association (RPA) Leikha Rambrich, stressed that if Government is allowed to ahead with the proposal, which will affect rice farmers in Region Five, then Government will move to implement such measures in other rice producing regions.“This is a testing ground, once they test the soil here and realise that the $15000 will work for some farmers in Region Five, especially the MMA area it means that it will be spread right across the country and the RPA will not stand and allow this to continue. We are with you, we want yours as well,” he said.Meanwhile, rice farmers say they cannot afford to pay $15,000 per acre of rice land which they cultivate. The farmers had been paying $3,500 per acre. The fee is implemented so that the MMA can take care of drainage and irrigation. Cattle and other crop farmers are not spared, as pasture users are being proposed to go from $200 to $1400The RPA is calling on all farmers to resist this draconian increase and show solidarity in the call for the reversal of this decision which was taken without any consultation with farmers, their association or any other stakeholders.