Chemicals use by Rupununi mega-farm could crop up at parliament committee

The issue of the toxicity of chemicals used on a Barbadian-operated mega-farm that borders the wetlands of the Rupununi could be examined by the parliamentary Sectoral Committee on Natural Re-sources, its chair Dr. Rupert Roopnaraine says.

“I believe it can be put on the agenda,” he said when contacted by Stabroek News yesterday. APNU Member of Parliament Sydney Allicock, who is also a resident of the area, last month raised the matter at the parliamentary level and following procedure, posed questions directed to Minister of Agriculture Dr. Leslie Ramsammy who is expected to provide answers at the next sitting of the National Assembly.

Allicock asked about the type of insecticide and fertilizer that were/are being used at the Santa Fe farm in the north Rupununi and whether any Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) was done. Director of the Environmental Protection Agency Dr Inderjit Ramdass had previously told Stabroek News that no EIA was done.

Allicock also wants to know whether the amount of chemicals used would be a threat to the eco-system of the wetlands of the north Rupununi in the rainy season.

Yesterday, Roopnaraine said that the matter as it relates to the damage to the wetlands due to toxicity from pesticides and fertilizers was raised early on. “I think that’s a very serious matter,” he said while adding that they would need to get some assurances from the ministry of agriculture on the issue of toxicity. He said that the committee can certainly look into the matter. The committee had not met for this month and Roopnaraine said that it is something that can be looked at.

Following an initial rice crop last year, the company expected to see about 1,000 acres of rice cultivated, 980 acres more than what was planted in the first crop. The farm also planned to get into soya bean cultivation as well as the rearing of beef and dairy animals. Ramsammy had also told Stabroek News that the firm has plans to expand eventually to 30,000 acres and “government is also looking favourably at giving them that acreage as it will yield tremendous benefits for us.”

Allicock had told Stabroek News that the amount of pesticides and fertilizers being used at the Santa Fe mega-farm for its rice cultivation is troubling because of the impact it could have on the environment and the region’s budding eco-tourism sector. He said villagers had questioned representatives of the farm, which is operated by the Simpson Group of Companies out of Barbados, at a meeting last year and were told that they should not be fearful because the company was using expert knowledge from Brazil and India.

Since then, Allicock said, they have seen reports where the project was hailed as a success with mention being made that three times the amount of fertilizers and pesticides than on the coast were being used on the farm which borders the wetlands of the north Rupununi.

The Government Information Agency (GINA) reported last year that given the soil type, the AR Irja 424 variety of rice being cultivated on the farm required greater fertilizer application which meant using three times the fertiliser regimen applied on the coastland as well as a greater use of pesticides. Santa Fe has declined requests by Stabroek News for an interview on its investment and all the information thus far on it has been provided by GINA.

Allicock said they had sought answers from the company. “What sort of pesticides, what sort of fertilizers they used? Up to now they are still to tell us the name” of the chemicals being used, he said. “I hope it would not bring damage but it’s scary to see what they are doing,” he added.

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