Black Bush flood relief efforts could jeopardise rice crops – Holder

Efforts are currently underway to drain flooded cattle grazing grounds in Black Bush Polder in Region Six but Agriculture Minister Noel Holder says this could pose problems for rice lands located in the area.

“…Now Canje is overflowing its banks and flooding them [grazing grounds] out, so the cattle population to some extent [is] in jeopardy…,” Holder told reporters at a post-Cabinet press briefing yesterday, while revealing that although pumps have been installed at various points, rice lands may also be in danger.

An engineering team is currently in the area assessing the situation. There are reports that a large number of animals have so far perished but during a recent flyover officials only spotted around 20 carcasses.

Holder said there will be particular need for vigilance when the water recedes as the cattle can become stuck in the soft mud and perish.

Noel Holder

He told reporters that traditionally Region Six gets its water from the Canje Creek. He said that the drainage and irrigation system is so designed that because of the requirement of water from the Canje River, the drain canal was dug linking the Berbice River to the Canje Creek to allow water from the bigger river (Berbice) to supplement water in the Canje to ensure there is always enough water for rice and sugar along the Corentyne Coast. “However, over the last month or so, because of the excessive water in the upper reaches of the Canje, water in the Canje has gotten so high that it has been overflowing its banks, particularly in the areas that are not declared drainage and irrigation areas,” he said, before identifying Cookrite Savannah and the New Sookram Cattle Pasture.

First time in history

At the moment, he reported, the water in that area is two to three feet high. He said according to records, this is the first time in history that this level of flooding has hit the grazing grounds. “There was never this peculiar situation where the Canje is overflowing its banks… This is a worrying situation,” he added.

Holder said that cattle are “pretty hardy creatures” and they will find whatever high ground that they can but he pointed out that the calves would be particularly vulnerable.

He said the ministry has sent in a team of engineers to assess the situation to see what can be done. He said that in the interim, additional pumps have been installed so as to allow the New Sookram Cattle Pasture to drain through areas such as Black Bush Polder. This plan, he said, could be problematic because if too much water flows into Black Bush, the rice production “could be jeopardised.”

He noted that rice farmers in the Black Bush Polder area are naturally concerned about the entire situation and so is the government.

Holder said that it has been explained to the farmers that because the irrigation canal that brings water from Canje to Black Bush is inundated with water from the savannah that cannot be used for irrigation, it has to be flushed out of the system.

He also surmised that cattle farmers will be inclined to break the dam to get relief. “We have to make sure that that doesn’t occur, so if we control the drainage through the cultivated area, then things could be handled better,” he added.

Holder said that the National Drainage and Irrigation Authority (NDIA) has installed pumps at Adventure and Numbers 46, 49 and 52 villages and two machines are currently cleaning the Fowler Canal to bring water down to Number 66 Creek. He said that the ministry thinks that if there is no excessive rainfall over the next two or three days, the water levels should drop.

“So we are trying to relieve the situation of two fronts, coastal as well as riverain,” he added.

The livestock authority, Holder informed, is also on the ground trying to ascertain what is required at this point. He said that there is a shortage of product given that the area is flooded. He explained that the logistics of getting grass, molasses or rice brand into that area for the cattle poses tremendous problems because of the physical situation.

Head of the Civil Defence Commission (CDC) Retired Colonel Chabilall Ramsarup, who was also present at the briefing, stated that aside from Cookrite Savannah and the New Sookram Cattle Pasture, the Baracara area is also flooded and there are about 3,000 to 5,000 heads of cattle there.

He recalled that during the 2005 Great Flood, grass along the coast was cut and transported by raft to areas in Mahaica, Mahaicony and Abary (MMA) for affected cattle. He said that based on the flyover, Cookrite Savannah will be “a hard nut to crack.” NDIA, he said, is looking at the situation. He related that previously in the MMA area, a lot of mounds were built so that when there was flooding, the cattle could gravitate to these high lands. He expressed hope that this could eventually be done in the two flooded savannahs.

Holder told reporters that it was difficult to quantify losses but he was certain that rice losses have been minimal across the country. The cattle issue, he said, is of major concern as a large amount of cattle is in the grazing grounds.

Not well thought out

Meanwhile, the Rice Producers Association (RPA) President Leekha Rambrich has voiced concern about relocating cattle out of the flood waters to higher grounds, saying that will result in more rice being destroyed.

He explained to Stabroek News that since the flooding, cattle owners had already started to bring their animals out from the flooded Cookrite Savannah area, resulting in the loss of over 2,000 acres of rice in the past three weeks in the Numbers 52 to 74 Villages, Corentyne area. According to Rambrich, the cattle are destroying the rice and if more is brought to the rice lands, more crops will be destroyed.

Rambrich noted, that the association is well aware that the savannah is heavily flooded, and that a solution needs to be put forth. However, he stressed, that the relevant officials need to come up with a solution that will assist the cattle owners and not in turn hamper the rice farmers. He stated, that a decision should have only been made after consultation with the necessary stakeholders.

Approximately 40 cattle farmers occupy the Cookrite Savannah. The farmers had previously highlighted their plight and pleaded for relief. The farmers had stated that they have collectively lost several hundred heads of cattle along with several horses since the flood. The cattle farmers had previously told Stabroek News, that approximately 1,000 acres of land are presently flooded. The farmers had noted that the animals are first developing a fever, then they slowly become too weak to stand on their own, after which they succumb.

As a result, on Wednesday afternoon Prime Minister Nagamootoo met with the farmers at the New Amsterdam State House, where he encouraged them to bring their cattle out of the flood waters to higher ground. This, Rambrich said, was not a well thought out decision. He explained that giving the go ahead to cattle farmers to bring their animals out to higher lands will then affect the rice farmers tremendously. He also highlighted that transporting a large herd of cattle at one time is extremely unsafe for persons who are accessing the area.

He further claimed that lands at the savannah were leased out to the cattle owners, hence, it was their responsibility to build and develop their lands. He noted that while they do not want to see the destruction of the cattle industry, it is also necessary to consider the hardworking, taxpaying rice farmers before making any rash decisions that will in turn affect their livelihood.

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