Colombia govt averts rice farmers strike

The Colombian government has averted the rice farmers strike planned for March 19 by agreeing, early Thursday morning, to implement price controls to protect the industry’s profitability.

The central point of the agreement, which will improve the income of producers and protect the interests of consumers, was the creation of a price range of mandatory compliance for the rice millers.

“The strike which was announced is cancelled from this moment on,” said Roberto Botero, spokesman for the rice farmers.

For the interior of the country, the price controls will be set between $68 and $73.40 per load. In Villavicencio, the capital of the Meta department in central Colombia, the range will be from $61 to $66.70.

The governor of Tolima, Luis Carlos Delgado Peñon, and several government officials from the region had sent a letter to President Juan Manuel Santos demanding solutions to the rice farming crisis, and said that without a prompt and satisfactory response from the government, the strike would go ahead as planned.

Roberto Botero, the leader of the National Movement for the Dignity of Rice Farmers (MNDA), had stressed that the rice farmers’ objective was to avoid the strike if possible. “Our intention is not to strike, not to destabilize the country, but the circumstances have forced us into this situation,” he said.

Rafael Hernandez, the president of the national rice production federation Fedearroz, had reportedly been in constant contact with industry leaders in the Casanare, Meta and Tolima departments in attempts to convince the rice farmers not to go ahead with the planned national action, calling it “unnecessary and unjustified.”

However Eudoro Alvarez, president of the Farmers’ Association in Meta department, has pointed towards the strike as a measure to get the government’s attention, claiming that in spite of several letters to the government and peaceful protests they have yet to obtain any response.

MORE: Colombia rice farmers set to strike March 19

After grueling but fruitful negotiations with representatives of the MNDA, Minister of Agriculture Juan Camilo Restrepo emphasized that dialogue, not striking, was the best way to achieve consensus and find solutions.

The price controls will take effect before next Tuesday, once the Ministry of Agriculture issues the resolution. The agreement will last until December 31 and also addresses issues such as financing, standardization of portfolio, contraband, modernization, and the competitiveness of the rice sector, among others.


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