Aquaculture can give us far more income than sugar

Dear Editor,

 

A friend of mine on seeing my letter to the media concerning alternative agricultural operations and especially aquaculture asked me how growing a few fish can be a bigger industry than the massive sugar cane industry with all of the capital and other infrastructure sugar represents as an industry. How can aquaculture give us more income than sugar?

There are two main reasons why it is so: 1. Climatic conditions ‒ the PPP which cannot grow sugar cane under these wet conditions always blames the weather. But an analysis of the weather pattern over the past 100 years tells us that even though we have had wet periods and dry periods, the rainfall is not more today than it was several decades, even a century ago. For example, I wrote a commentary in January 2004 predicting much of what you are seeing now. In it I said, “Ladies and gentlemen the PPP have been very lucky in the 11 odd years they have been in power; in none of those 11 years have they had to deal with the traditional high rainfall this country experiences, especially along the east and west coast from Abary to Uitvlugt. And they have been complacent in the way they have maintained the existing infrastructure on the coast, since coming to power, especially in regions 4 & 5.” I then gave this example of the period 1966 to 1976 and I do not need to remind anyone that we had the sugar industry then: “Let me give you the rainfall that occurred in this country between 1966 and 1976 to establish the high levels this country can traditionally expect, and for this I will give you the rainfall as recorded at Houston estate during those years.

In 1966 the rainfall was 118.4 inches; in 1967 it was 165.69 inches; in 1968 it was 131.20 inches; in 1969 it was 110.71 inches; in 1970 it was 157.89 inches; in 1971 it was 140.79 inches; in 1972 it was 112.05 inches; in 1973 it was 125.95 inches; in 1974 it was 116.93 inches; in 1975 it was 129.87 inches; and in 1976 it was 146.93 inches. We did not know about El Nino but we knew that there were years of extremely high rainfall alternating with several years of low rainfall.”  In no year since 2005 have we received anywhere near these rainfall numbers.

And the reason we have this high rainfall is simple, located as we are in the Inter Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) which is a band 10 degrees north and 10 degrees south of the equator, where the northern and southern trade winds meet, this country has two rainfall seasons a year; all other countries which are located greater than 10 degrees north or south of the equator will only experience one rainfall period a year.

Also Guyana experiences more rainfall than 96% of the rest of the land area of the planet, making it one of the wettest places in the world with an average precipitation of over 80 inches a year. The PPP have only just discovered this fact and blame the rain for all of their incompetence, but this high rainfall has been going on for most of our history, and I am talking about since the dawn of time history.

To make a bad situation worse we cannot drain this high rainfall until the tide is low on the coast, and most of the time the land is soggy and anywhere in the sugar belt in Demerara if you dig a hole in the ground 18 inches deep you will hit ground water; in Berbice it may be a little deeper, perhaps a little over 24 inches.

2. It is not feasible to convert our cane cultivation which has a cambered bed layout with deep drains located every 36 ft into something which can accommodate mechanical harvesting; all efforts to do this are failing Sangster in GuySuCo is telling us about a system which he feels confident will work but even if we use his high 40 tons per hour reaping and not our 25 tons an hour reaping numbers, which is our information, using a machine which is capable of cutting 100/150 tonnes an hour under the right field conditions in Australia for example, I wonder if he has even thought of the cost repercussions of doing this ‒ ie using a $75 million cane harvester at 40% of its rated capacity, creating so much damage to the fields that they have been forced to manufacture a special tool to undo the damage to these soft, muddy field after harvest. It’s madness.

During late 2005 the government called for a fast track development plan to develop aquaculture in Guyana since our conditions were considered perfect for this sort of application. Since we had such a massive competitive advantage, because of the same conditions which would make the mechanisation of sugar cane in Guyana impossible, namely, an abundance of water, and a field layout of almost perfect 10 acre ponds which thanks to the Dutch, the slaves and the indentured labourers are perfect for aquaculture.

We obtained a loan of US$1 million from the IDB, and the Ministry of Agriculture and an association of private individuals which was called the National Aquaculture Association of Guyana (NAAG) was formed in 2006. But the trial which followed was seen as a small and middle sized farmer operation by the government and not a full-blown industrial operation of aquaculture displacing sugar-cane farming. My own research informs me that worldwide small scale aquaculture has not proved to be very successful compared to large-scale operations.

The trials done for the government and the people of Guyana for $200 million were spearheaded with input from the University of Arizona, the Collaborative Research Support Programme, CRSP, an international multi-discipline partnership to advance science, education and outreach in aquatic resources. Following a strategy to dramatically increase efficiency in production in 2006, a technology labelled super male or YY male from the University of Wales in Swansea, UK was introduced into Guyana.

These super males guarantee an all-male progeny. This allows farmers to benefit from the quick rate of growth of an all-male crop of fish. This loan also installed a 200,000 fingerling fish hatchery located at the Ministry of Agriculture at Mon Repos to supply an all-male fingerling stock to farmers. They even built a refrigeration installation at Timehri to hold the fish due for export by air.

Guyana’s list of assets in this exercise is listed as very beneficial in view of access to markets, inexpensive labour, the fertility and development of land an abundance of fresh and brackish water and in particular the layout of land, which in combination with these other advantages shows that Guyana was perfectly suited to semi-intensive aquaculture.

The conclusion of the trials done here in 2007-08 discovered that one acre of red tilapia yielded in one year 21,780 pounds of tilapia at a stocking density of one fish every 4 feet.

The price for tilapia in 2006 was used as US$1.10 a pound (whole fish of around 1 pound each); today we have to use more like US$2 per pound since the price has gone up, but the trial yielded 21,780 pounds of tilapia per acre x US$2/pound =US$ 43,560 per acre gross income. (This is actually two crops a year of 10,890 pounds in each crop) and 10,000 pounds per acre, is well within the best practice yield of 20,000 per acre.

Tilapia does not grow by itself; it needs care, feeding, cleaning the ponds, security and removing predators. Each 5 acre pond requires 2 workers 365 days a year. 120,000 acres would require over 30,000 workers. And this is easy work not like cane cutting in which to earn a day’s pay a cane cutter would have to cut and load 2.4 tonnes on his head into the punts 200 ft away.

In 2012 the sugar industry produced 218,000 tonnes and gave us a return of US$132,000,000, ie, US$132 million, which works out to around US$600 per tonne; each acre of cane field produces about 2 tonnes of sugar today, therefore each acre of sugar cane returns US$1200 a year. GuySuCo currently has 48,000 hectares which is around 120,000 acres.

Now we will put our little problem into perspective mathematically. If we were growing tilapia instead of cane our income would be US$43,560 a year per acre, ie US$43,560- US$1200 nearly 400 per cent greater than sugar cane. If the 120,000 acres of our sugar cultivation was growing tilapia and not sugar cane we would be earning US$5.2 billion from it annually and not US$132 million annually. Nothing we have ever done in this country in our history comes even close to the magnitude of this kind of income. Even if the study conducted in 2008 had an error of 100 per cent we would still be earning US$2.6 billion which is more than gold, rice, bauxite and sugar combined!

What we have done is establish that we have an alternative to sugar which is far superior economically, and as usual we have done nothing just as we have done nothing with our association with Brazil to build us a hydropower dam, a deep water harbour and a road between our two countries, because the government is afraid they will gobble us up.

The PPP has a lot to answer for; they are wasting our taxes on mechanising the sugar industry which has no possibility of success, and overlooking something which our conditions are perfectly suited to and which can earn us immeasurably more income. If done properly it can make us a world class aquaculture operation rather than a disastrous bankrupt small-scale sugar producer since we are forcing ourselves to grow sugar cane when it is clearly uneconomical and disastrous and we could never be a world class sugar producer.

We need to set up an Other Crops Division immediately to find how much of this is true, and the parliament must insist that it reports to them since GuySuCo and the PPP will do everything in their power to sabotage it, since whatever else its going on, Sangster’s letter tells us that GuySuCo is committed to sugar, no matter what. And the PPP will never allow us to tell them that they are doing nonsense and must stop growing sugar cane. We also need a strategic partner in this venture to show us the technology which can maximise our potential. I have sent copies of the 2008 studies to the editors of both the Kaieteur and Stabroek newspapers. They are listed alphabetically not to get into any controversy or show any preference between them. I have none, they are both doing an excellent job of keeping our democracy alive.

 

Yours faithfully,
Tony Vieira

 

 

 

 

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