Rice farmer protest brings action from government

The central government caved in to protesting rice farmers Tuesday and asked the Corporación Arrocera Nacional to solve the problem by buying that part of the harvest that was not already sold.

That was the word from Casa Presidencial after a caravan of rice farmers blocked the street at the Zapote facility and also the four-lane Circunvalación nearby. Luis Liberman, one of the country’s two vice presidents, met with representatives of the rice growers and later sent a letter to the government rice corporation, said Casa Presidencial.

Rice farmers have been protesting for weeks, but Tuesday they brought their protests to San José from Guanacaste, the northern zone and the province of Limón.

They may be protesting again today. They caused traffic jams Tuesday evening.

At the heart of the protest, rice farmers want to stop the importation of the grain even though the free trade treaty with the United States and other countries provides quotas for rice,

The United States is a major rice producer, and dealers there can deliver rice to Costa Rica at less
than the cost of production for farmers here. The protests had been anticipated when the free trade treaty was signed because the rice industry had been heavily subsidized by the government.

The farmers also want an extra import duty put on rice. That also is forbidden by the trade treaty.

The farmers were concerned because a significant portion of the harvest had not been purchased. Rice is a controlled commodity, and the government and its Corporación Arrocera Nacional is intimately involved in determining what farmers get and how much consumers pay.

The corporation said there are about 1,340 producers in the country. Each Costa Rican consumes slightly more than 100 pounds of rice each year, according to the corporation’s statistics.

Farmers get 22,604.41 colons for each sack of 73.6 kilos or about 162 pounds, according to the corporation. The price is about $44.28. Rice prices in the United States Tuesday at the farm were reported to be between $13.65 per hundred pounds to $15.55 or $343 per ton, according to the Oryza Daily email newsletter. By comparison, Costa Rican rice, based on the price decreed for farmers, is about $547 a ton. The price fixed by the government for retail sale is 691 colons a kilo or about $1,230 a ton.

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