Essequibo rice farmers on Friday, June 19, continued to picket in front of PPP branch office and the Guyana Rice Development Board (GRDB) branch office at Anna Regina, on the Essequibo Coast, for long overdue paddy payments by millers, poor drainage, clogged up sea defence sluices and the loss of young rice.
Having seen this picketing, I decided to visit the areas which were flooded. My first stop was Lima, where I met with farmers and saw first hand that the desilting mud from in front of the sluice had been thrown in the drainage trench leading to the mouth of the koker, causing the water to rise. This has caused the flooding of the housing areas and hundreds of acres of young rice. I saw the farmers using their tractors to pump out water from their flooded rice fields. The small pump which was placed at the sea defences by the regional administration to help pump water, was not working because there was no fuel.
Most of the young rice that I saw was infested with duckweed, because it grows very vigorously in standing water. It is a serious aquatic weed in rice crops, and generally grows dense when the rainfall is heavy or the field is flooded early in the growing season. Poor drainage contributes to its early establishment. It also competes with the young rice plants for both space and nutrients, reducing tillage and ultimately grain yields. It can smother the young rice seedlings, leaving large areas in the field without rice plants.
As I travelled further to the north, the same conditions existed at Danielstown, Sparta, Windsor Castle, Hampton Court and Devonshire Castle. Hundreds of acres of young rice were under water. This has been ongoing crop after crop because of bad management in the regional administration in Region Two. Over the years, the previous administration made massive investments in this region with millions of dollars spent on sea defence, river defence, pumps, and drainage and irrigation systems. All malfunction and operate inefficiently because of poor administration.
The farmers are also calling for the resignation of the General Manager Mr Jagnarine Singh, CEO of the National Drainage and Irrigation Authority (NDIA) Mr Lionel Wordsworth, and the removal of Mr Dharamkumar Seeraj from the GRDB Board, for alleged conflict of interest. There are many challenges facing the rice farmers in Region Two, where no intervention was ever made on behalf of the farmers by personnel from the GRDB and NDIA; not enough was done in the area to save crops, especially in instances of unpredictable weather patterns of either unseasonable rainfall or prolonged drought.
At the mills, there were no quality control grading officers present to overlook the grading, weight, moisture and dockage of the farmers’ paddy and issue the proper grading certificates when the paddy was purchased. The regional co-ordinator never reported to the head office on these matters which were affecting the farmers, resulting in them losing many bags of paddy. There are no trained graders attached to some rice mills, and no proper equipment in the grading laboratories. The regional co-ordinator never looked into the improvement and maintenance of high quality rice for the local and export markets, or compiled reports on the performance of trained graders attached to the rice mills.
GRDB failed to address these areas to prevent the many anomalies to reduce losses and enhance profitability.