Environmental impact of Santa Fe farm would depend on type of chemicals being used – Singh

It would be difficult to say what the impact of pesticide and fertiliser runoff on the wetlands ecosystem surrounding the Santa Fe mega farm in the Rupununi would be without knowing what sort of chemicals are being used, Director of Conservation International (Guyana) Dr David Singh says.

“It may have an impact but it would be difficult to say what those impacts would be without knowing what the fertilisers and pesticides [being used] are,” he told Stabroek News. The CI director expressed confidence that the Simpson Group of Companies – the Barbados firm behind the mega farm – was doing what is required. Based on his interactions with them, he said, he felt that there is an interest on the part of the company to do things responsibly. “I am pretty sure that the company would do the responsible thing,” Dr Singh said.

The matter has been raised at the parliamentary level by MP Sydney Allicock, who is also a resident of the area. Last month, Allicock posed questions 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 types of insecticide and fertiliser 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.

He had expressed concern that the company was not providing answers sought by communities. Allicock had told Stabroek News that they had sought answers from the company after reports of the amounts of chemicals being used. “What sort of pesticides, what sort of fertilisers they used? Up to now they are still to tell us the name” of the chemicals being used, he had said. “I hope it would not bring damage but it’s scary to see what they are doing,” he added. 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 fertiliser 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. Minister of Natural Resources and the Environment Robert Persaud did not respond yesterday to questions from Stabroek News.

Dr Singh said that what is important in any kind of development for any landscape, particularly landscapes that have an intact ecosystem, is that it should be done with due consideration taken of the impacts. Even if no impact is seen, he said, the cumulative impact on the watershed could be significant. He noted that CI through its low carbon livelihoods project in the Rupununi is hoping to get stakeholders to have a better means of speaking to each other for an integrated approach to dealing with their interests. The CI director pointed out that in the Rupununi there are farmers, communities and ranchers each with their own interest and it is important to have this dialogue or “you could end up with an unsustainable future” as seen in mining-dependent communities.

Dr Singh pointed out that the Rupununi has been identified by various organisations including CI as an important wetland with unique and important biodiversity. He said that while it does not mean that there should be no development, it “should be done within the context of wetland development.”

In his interactions with Santa Fe, he said, he felt that there is an interest by the company to do things responsibly. The CI director pointed out that the risks attached to doing things in an irresponsible way are great. He said that in the absence of any information, he assumes that the issue of chemicals and a plan to deal with the impacts are taken fully into consideration.

Santa Fe is looking to expand its operations. 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 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.”

Subsequent to laying the questions regarding the Santa Fe farm in the National Assembly, Allicock had told Stabroek News that the amount of pesticides and fertilisers being used at the 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 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 fertilisers and pesticides than on the coast were being used on the farm which borders the wetlands of the north Rupununi. They are concerned about the impacts, he said.


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