The 200 acres of seed paddy that was cultivated at Wales estate, as part of the diversification venture following the closure of sugar operations in December 2016, would be ready for harvesting in September.
Manager of the estate, Davendra Kumar said that the seed paddy would be provided to the Guyana Rice Development Board (GRDB) and then be marketed to farmers.
By the end of this year, it is expected that another 285 acres would be cultivated, depending on the weather condition.
At a community outreach at Uitvlugt last week, Kumar pointed out that in January 2016 when the decision was taken to cease sugar cane cultivation at Wales by the end of the year, there was a view to gradually transition it into diversified economic agricultural ventures.
The Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) decided to convert its 3,350 hectares of cane land for that purpose and seed paddy cultivation was selected as the initial venture. The others include orchard crop production, aquaculture, and cattle and dairy farming.
The aquaculture project includes the rearing of tilapia on 268 hectares of land. Kumar told the gathering that “consultants from AquaSol; Tom Frese, [the President] and Dr. Boyle, came last year and conducted a feasibility study for the aquaculture project.
He said they submitted their final report about one month ago and it shows that the venture is feasible. GuySuCo now has to go out and secure the market for the tilapia. AquaSol has convinced the corporation that “market is out there.”
He said that after some fine-tuning with the report, the project is expected to come on stream in the next six months.
Another team from Trinidad headed by Dr. Arlington Chesney and Kenny Vieira, also conducted studies. They are looking at the possibility of integrating aquaponics into the aquaculture. This, he said, involves a process of growing of vegetables, using the water from the fishpond.
According to Kumar, the proposal for that project, titled; Aquaponics-Based Livelihoods Expansion (ABLE) Programme, was completed and submitted and is now awaiting approval.
The orchard crop would be produced on 1,200 hectares of land. Of this, 903 hectares would be for citrus, 175 for coconuts, 23 for passion fruit and 99 hectares for soursop.
The corporation is currently reviewing the marketing strategies for these and upon completion would seek the financing to get it started. Another 1,250 hectares of the land would be used for rearing of livestock.
For the cattle and dairy venture, a Food and Agriculture Organisation-funded study on the development of dairy farming and a milk processing plant is in progress.
The preliminary model of the plan, Kumar said, includes a Central Milk Processing and Manufacturing Facility and 2 Specialized Nucleus Milking Farms at Wales Estate.
The objective of the diversification venture includes “providing gainful employment within the community with a view of offsetting the recent redundancy of several categories of sugar workers.” It is also “to establish a model farm with the view of demonstrating best practices to out-growers.”
Kumar said that the diversification would give the severed Wales workers an opportunity to lease land for dairy farming or other crop production.
This is the first time that information on the diversification ventures was presented to the public in detail.
Kumar had attempted to speak on the plans at Wales when GuySuCo held the first in a series of community meetings in sugar dependent communities, but the workers interrupted him and attempted to walk out after he rebuked one of their colleagues.
The workers and the Guyana Agricultural & General Workers’ Union (GAWU) had criticized GuySuCo for not consulting with them or informing them about the diversification plans.
President of GAWU, Komal Chand, told Stabroek News that just after the closure of the estate was announced, GuySuCo had told members that it would “get into some new ventures” and would get back to them but never did.
They only learnt of the rice venture when a notice was advertised in the newspapers. He had questioned: “how can they spend taxpayers’ money on such a big venture and not inform us?”
Chand said that “the union and the workers are important stakeholders” and the fact that they were not informed, speaks volumes.
Government is planning to scale down to three estates under its diversification and divestment plans and Uitvlugt as well as Albion and Blairmont estates in Berbice have been selected to remain in operation. Wales is being diversified along with the East Demerara and Rose Hall estates.
Senior Communications Officer Audreyanna Thomas had told the gathering that they are now focusing on a new GuySuCo, which involves a diversification component and a sugar component.
The new GuySuCo would see massive training programmes for employees so that they can embark on alternative livelihood ventures.