Corentyne Chambers call for mechanization of rice industry

-amid reported paddy bug infestation

According to the Upper Corentyne Chamber of Commerce (UCCC) and the Central Corentyne Chamber of Commerce (CCCC), there is a need for the mechanization of the rice industry especially when it comes to treating paddy bug infestation.

In a joint press release yesterday, the two chambers pointed out that it has been a decade since several “farsighted” rice farmers started pushing for the Government and the Guyana Rice Development Board (GRDB) to move towards mechanizing the rice industry. It explained that unless the farmers move in such a direction the industry would “eventually shrink to become a local food producer,” and would eventually become irrelevant as a foreign exchange earner for the country.

It pointed out that the mechanization of the industry can replace labour intensive agronomic processes at a lower cost and can also ensure the timeliness of other inputs.

“While initial outlays may be expensive, mechanization is, by far, a much cheaper means of producing rice. In fact, scale enterprise which seems the way the industry is heading, yields higher unit productivity with mechanization than traditional methods. The picture is becoming clearer. Old ways will have to give way to the new,” the release pointed out, while stating that rice exportation has grown in its importance as a foreign exchange earner and as such, the exposure to more markets will see the trend continuing.

However, aside from the labour shortage, the joint release stated that there is a great need for mechanization in treating a paddy bug infestation effectively. “A paddy bug infestation is now creating havoc in the industry. True, the agencies have been warning of it for some time now but monitoring the situation, or hop-scotch ad-hoc attempts to contain it, is tantamount to do nothing-at all,” the communique said, while adding that the paddy bug, also known as Ghandi, is milking the contents of the newly developing grain, leaving shriveled, spotty and empty paddy shells.

“The offensive smell of rice with deformed, discolored grains is evidence of this nasty bug. Compounding the issue is that the bug is highly reproductive. Spraying contains it but there is the kicker,” the press release said, while adding that the labour for knapsack spraying is becoming non-existent at the wage rate the industry could afford.

Additionally, it highlighted that if rice paddies are left untreated, farmers are likely to lose some 1/3 of their crop. “If this is the profit margin then we [will] see an exodus from the industry, as contrary to many, though farmers have less formal education they are nevertheless savvy, especially when hundreds of thousands of dollars and many millions, in some cases, are invested,” the release stated.

However, a source from the GRDB told Stabroek News yesterday said that while the board has been receiving reports that there is an amount of infestation in some areas, it has generally been below the threshold that requires the spraying of chemicals.

With reference to the mechanization of treatment for the infestation, the source said, “Manual has been the practice for all the years. Once you do it the way you’re supposed to done in terms of the methodology then you can have control once you follow the protocol.” The source pointed out that the GRDB has since placed several advisories in the media on what techniques can be used to handle the bugs. They would’ve also had training with the farmers in ensure that they know the proper techniques to use to treat the infestation effectively.

“Paddy bug comes and goes. It’s there but sometimes what happens is the levels go up and come down, but paddy bug has always been there. You can never eliminate paddy bug completely.

You can only manage it and bring it down to a manageable level,” the source noted.

Further elaborating on the mechanization of the treatment of the paddy bug, the release indicated that the owners of the Nand Persaud and Company, at No. 36 Village, Corentyne, have been pushing for mechanization, which would remove the threats of the bug via aerial spraying. As such, the company started the construction of an airstrip some two years ago, however, their efforts were stymied after the Environmental Protection Agency and other authorities were “slow in recognizing and granting license to operate their crop dusting service to farmers in the area.”

“In a nutshell, paddy bug infestation is a recurring problem that undermines the viability of the industry and the marketability of rice. That the authorities seem oblivious or negligent to the threat is indicative of the ‘lip-service’ to agriculture. Excess rice not marketable overseas due to the rice bug depredations means sizeable losses in foreign exchange that the higher quality produce could bring,” the statement said.

It indicated that in Region 6, rice farmers are experiencing losses due to paddy damage from the previous crop and the recurrence of the situation will only compound the losses. “With the likely damage of 20% accruing from rice bug activity more land will exit production. In real terms, acreage fell to 58,000 from 61,000 acres last year. A simple calculation will show that 58,000 acres at a yield of 2.5 tonnes per acre would give a total yield of 145,000 tonnes,” the release reasoned.

“Assuming some labour for spraying damage will still be in the vicinity of 12% or as much as 17,400 tonnes of damaged paddy. Translated to cash, this amounts to $696 million ($40,000 per tonne) per crop,” the joint Chambers release added, reasoning that some $1.3 billion is estimated to be lost this year.

Following the trend, the bulletin said that it is expected that some 3,000 acres will be taken out of crop next month, which directly results in a loss of some $300 million to the region directly.

As such, the press release said that the direction in which the industry is heading can be reversed if the mechanization is considered, especially aerial spraying to treat the paddy bug infestation and other threats, which directly results in more quality paddy being harvested.

“Definitely we have the means to improve the rice industry but what is lacking is the policy,” the statement noted, while adding that the two chambers of commerce want to take a step further, and as such, are inviting the relevant government officials and representatives from the GRDB for a tour of rice cultivation on the Corentyne Coast to, “amplify on their claims above.”