Guyana can once more become the food basket of the Caribbean given our endowment of extensive and rich agricultural lands. It is a matter of common sense to expand the agricultural sector by diversifying and introducing new crops (eg, rice, soya beans, palm oil, aquaculture) which can bring more profits and benefits to the farmers.
I had the opportunity to visit Ms Sattie Ramnauth’s fish and rice farm at Hampton Court, and I saw first-hand how the rice-fish culture works. She is reaping two crops at the same time during the rice harvesting , she and her son Mitta told me. If the rice farmers in this region used their farms to grow rice and fish, they could earn more money with lower costs and less labour. During my tenure as a rice extension officer, I had the opportunity to see many experiments with the various varieties of paddy at Kayman Sankar’s private estate, one being the ‘no tillage’ which was introduced to cut costs and conserve on water from the main canal conservancy. This experiment failed because the yield and the quality were poor, although this method of growing rice is being done in Brazil and other parts in the world where there is a scarcity of water during the dry period.
I firmly believe that the rice farmers should follow Ms Ramnauth and go into the rice and fish culture, and stop blaming the government for the low prices offered by millers. From my experience as a farmer and rice extension officer working among the farmers it is very difficult to change their traditional ways; to this day some farmers believe that paddy cannot grow under water for 2 weeks by reducing the water gradually. The extension division of the Guyana Rice Development Board (GRDB) needs to hold regular meetings with rice farmers across the rice growing regions and let them know that under the free market, the price of rice is dependent on demand and supply.
Guyana has to supply high quality of rice to the international market, and it must be free of pesticides, for then it will be able to compete with its Asian counterparts for higher prices. For this to happen, the GRDB has to supply high quality seeds to the farmers, free of weeds and red rice; most of the lands in Region Two are contaminated with red rice and weeds. Some farmers should take the blame for the state of the high infestation of these weeds in their fields, because they do not want to buy clean paddy from GRDB to sow in their fields. Often times they are using their own poor quality of seed paddy from their own field crop after crop without water roughing.
Farmers should know that they have to purchase basic or certified one-seed paddy to broadcast in their fields; that’s the only way they can reap high quality paddy. This seed should be changed every two crops or else it will inter-breed and develop red rice. Once the red rice is ripe and falls into the field it will multiply into thousands of plants and be very hard to get rid of, especially in long dry spells. Good husbandry practices by the farmers can keep the fields free from weeds and red rice. These days the young rice farmers do not pay careful attention to their crops as the older folks did.
Nowadays I have noticed that the farmers are using deadly pesticides from the germination stage for 110 days, which is the reaping stage. This can cause Guyana to lose its markets, because the overseas buyer will test the grains and if they find drugs in them, they will dump the rice. Farmers will soon have to use integrated pest management if they want a good price for their produce.