Story and photos by Shabna Ullah
Even with a small population, Number 6 Village/Bel Air, West Coast Berbice is booming with businesses and boasts beautiful modern houses. The village is popular for hosting horse-racing events at a race course owned by the Singh family. That family also owned the entire No 6 Estate but have sold portions of land to persons from other areas.
Some members of the family reside at Bush Lot and also operate the Innovative Construction Company that builds bridges and roads. When the World Beyond Georgetown dropped in at their office, two workers who were servicing an excavator agreed to have their photo taken.
At Feroz Service Station, located at the other end of the village, three employees, Arjune Samlall, Krishna Singh and Alvin Jaggat took a break to speak to this reporter. The owner, Feroz Ishawk also of Bush Lot has recently expanded into the auto sales business, dealing with cars and tractors. He also sells spare parts and accessories for cars and motorbikes, as well as tools, generators and other items.
Nearby is the home and office of attorney-at-law, Joel Persid Edmond while the Bel Air Farm Equipment & Supplies is located two buildings away.
Across the road is the home of rice farmer, Siddhartha Rai where he operates a mechanical workshop. In a separate building next door he runs a snackette and the Fountain Pure filtered water system.
Balram Hiralall of Shieldstown also owns a mechanical workshop in the village, servicing “all types of gas and some diesel vehicles.” He has been operating the business for the past four years after completing an apprentice stint with a mechanic and an evening course at the New Amsterdam Technical Institute.
Originally from Georgetown, Rai said several years ago he had moved to the Abary Creek and invested in rice farming on the left bank where his father owned a large plot of land.
He stopped planting there though as owing to the distance to the location it proved difficult to transport the paddy via pontoon. His father, Khemraj Rai then sold the land but not the agricultural machinery, and a few years later he encouraged him to rent 50 acres of land, sited closer to the access road and reinvest in rice.
He rents a pontoon for $20,000 to transport his paddy and now that the distance is shorter “truck can go on the pontoon so it is easier.”
When he moved to No 6 Village about six years ago the only businesses that were in existence were the gas station and the Bel Air Farm Equipment & Supplies. There were also three occupied houses and two unoccupied ones. About two years ago a few other houses were added to the village.
He likes it for the peace and quiet and said, “We don’t have neighbours talking loudly here and we are not affected by loud music. Only once in a while when No 5 Village has football matches we would hear loud music.”
The village also a thriving farmhouse belonging to Mohamed Shariff who rears poultry, sheep and goats on a large scale. Sheriff who resides at No 4 Village also owns 18 race horses and enjoys spending most of his time at the farm house. Eight of the horses were recently imported and have “not raced in Guyana yet.”
He was proud that one of his horses, ‘Swing Easy,’ won three races at the recently held PPP horse race meet at Rising Sun, WCB. Shariff has been involved in horse-racing since in the ’70s before migrating to North America. When he returned to Guyana five years ago he picked up the sport again and has been very successful at it.
Also a large-scale rice farmer, Shariff is unsure about “where the rice industry is heading. Last crop we got $4,000 per bag of paddy, this crop we got $3,200.” He said farmers were lucky to “get a good yield” but felt that because the millers had too much paddy they paid less for it.
Farmers are facing a problem now with irrigating their fields. Even though the rains have begun, he said, farmers are not getting enough water for the new crop.
Another problem affecting the rice farmers, he told this newspaper, is that “the millers are taking too long to pay. They don’t want to take money from the bank to pay farmers. They want to sell the paddy first and then pay.” Shariff lamented that farmers “have bank loans to pay and machinery to repair” and said “that is why people are late [cultivating].”
He said too that “Guyana wants to improve the cattle industry and is even importing cows to rear for beef, but farmers are not getting enough land to graze the cows. “I have over 200 head of cattle and I have to “squat all over…” he complained.
During the interview, some of his (male) workers were preparing iguanas to cook, while turkeys and ducks ran around in the yard. The goats and sheep were on the other side grazing
and the horses stayed put in their stables. A worker started whistling and the ducks and turkeys came running because they knew it was mealtime.