Rice production in Guyana reached a high of over 180,000 tons in 1984 but declined to a low of 130,000 tons in 1988. The fluctuating production levels were the result of disease and inconsistent weather. Droughts and heavy rains had an adverse effect on rice crops because the irrigation and drainage systems in rice-growing areas were poorly maintained. The area under rice cultivation fell from 100,000 hectares in 1964 to 36,000 hectares in 1988, according to the Guyana Rice Producers' Association.
Most rice farms in Guyana were privately owned; the government operated the irrigation systems and rice-processing mills. This division of the industry resulted in several difficulties. According to the United States Embassy, the government neglected irrigation and drainage canals because private farmers refused to pay taxes for their maintenance. Meanwhile, the government-run mills were reportedly slow in paying farmers for their crops. In addition, the government-controlled distribution system for tractors, fuel, spare parts, and fertilizer was highly inefficient, according to some reports. In 1990 the government began privatizing the rice industry by putting several rice mills up for sale.
The bulk of Guyana's rice production was consumed domestically. Even so, exports took on increasing importance during the 1980s as a source of foreign exchange; there were even reports of rice being smuggled out of the country. Guyana shared a quota for rice exports to the EEC with neighboring Suriname but was unable to fill the quota during the late 1980s. In 1988 the government set a 1991 production goal of 240,000 tons and an export goal of 100,000 tons. In the first quarter of 1990, however, exports fell to a record low of 16,000 tons, for an annual rate of less than 70,000 tons. Half of these exports came directly from private farmers, the other half from the Guyana Rice Milling and Marketing Authority.
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