During the holiday season I decided to visit the northern and southern sides of the Essequibo rice growing region after the rice farmers told me that they weren’t getting water from the main conservancy canal to sow their crops. I first travelled to the southern side, which is the Supenaam area, or Contract Two. These farmers were getting plentiful water; I could see the irrigation canals filled to the brim. Contract Two rice lands have a short length and depth with less acreage, so it’s easy to get irrigation water, unlike the northern side which starts from Suddie and ends at New Road. These rice lands stretch for miles from the main canal to the Cozier canal on the sea side.
At some point between Hibernia and Spring Garden the rice fields start from the main canal public road with a small amount of land facing the sea. The lands I saw were cultivated with two-week old paddy, and the rice plants behind the main conservancy canal were ready to be fertilized with urea and TSP. Contract Two is an extension project which was done by the Burnham and Hoyte governments to harness more rice lands, and linked up with the Tapakuma irrigation scheme and the main conservancy canal. This project was undertaken by two British contracting firms, Reed and Mallik and Taylor Woodrow. Over the years these two governments made massive investments in the agriculture sector bringing more lands under the plough.
That investment has created favourable conditions for large and efficient agricultural production which attracts young farmers to the land and keeps progressive farmers on the land.
As I ventured back to the northern side from Perseverance to Queenstown, I saw tractors in the fields preparing the land for sowing. I decided to travel deeper into the back lands at Bush Lot and there I saw the front half of the rice estate cultivated with young rice, some about 3 weeks old. What struck me was that these farmers had no holiday season; while people were enjoying themselves on Christmas day and Boxing day, they were busy pumping water into their fields. Some farmers grew their rice through the water so as to conserve it; others were pumping water night and day into their dry fields to they could sow their crops. This is an additional cost on the farmers. Those who couldn’t afford to pump water are patiently waiting and hoping that rain would soon fall and the level in the canal will build up for gravity feed so they can get water into their fields.
I drove down to the main conservancy canal to see if the level was high at Red Lock.
The water was extremely low; I could see the sand at the bottom of the canal. One young rice farmer from Better Success told me that he had already pumped water into150 acres of land and still had 150 acres dry, into which he would have to pump water if nothing is done by the Drainage and Irrigation department to get the Dawa pumping station started.
The Dawa pumping station was built with two huge Blackstone pumps by the late Cheddi Jagan when he was the Premier of Guyana for crisis times like these long dry spells and drought. This pump will usually pump fresh water from the Pomeroon river and discharge it into the Tapakuma lake so farmers can get water to irrigate their lands, and the level in the main conservancy will be maintained until the crop is ready to be harvested. This pump should have started a long time ago to build up the level in the main canal and avoid farmers having to pump water, but for some reason or the other it is not working, and this has placed a heavy burden on the farmers.
In the downstream areas beyond MCR it was worse; no water was getting into the fields, although some farmers opted to pump water into their fields. The long dry spell has taken its toll on the Region Two rice industry with some 15,000 acres unable to be sown on the 35,500 acres ploughed for the first crop. If the dry spell continues all 35,500 acres would be lost because of the lack of irrigation water. The areas most affected are from Land of Plenty to New Road. This would result in a loss of export earnings, and the domestic market will also be affected.
Minister of Agriculture Noel Holder should know that the programme for developing agriculture and rice especially, requires him to do a number of specific things. One of these is improving the Dawa pumping station for better irrigation. Not a single hectare of cultivable land should be left uncultivated or give low yields because of the absence of some facility for proper drainage and irrigation.