Tony Vieira's Comments
18 October 2017

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Rice
(Aired 17 November 2005)

   Several months ago I went to the Island of Leguan, and whilst there I met some rice farmers who were experiencing great difficulty planting their rice because of the current high price of fuel and the island which normally plants around 7000 acres of rice per crop is currently only planting around 2000 acres.

    After leaving Leguan and being interested in the land as I am, I decided to find out, what, if anything has been happening in the rice industry in this country over the past 20 years in terms of increasing our productivity in the rice industry, since if the price of fuel goes up the way it did and our rice industry collapsed almost immediately then the foundation on which our industry is built is very brittle indeed.

    So I launched an investigation into this matter, to determine what exactly the PPP have done for farmers since 1992, what seminars they held to educate and inform the rice farmers to ensure that modern techniques of agronomy and land preparation were being implemented by the farmers, what scientific research is going on to improve the varieties of rice we plant and whether these newer varieties were getting to the farmers, what we did to reduce the high electrical and other costs of milling, what they did to improve the yield of paddy per acre through the introduction of better water control i.e. the productivity of the industry since the international average of bags per acre is approaching 38-40 whilst we seem to be stuck at 25 bags per acre and our agronomic practices have essentially not changed since the 1970's!

   The answer is nothing was done!

   If we are to compete with the modern world we have to get better yields it is as simple as that! We don't need more production by planting new marginal low yielding areas, we need to have better agronomic/mechanical practices which will improve the yield per acre and therefore increase the profitability per acre of the farmers. I found nothing that even remotely approached a situation which would give a Guyanese rice farmer the essential technical back up tools necessary to compete with international markets, in fact what I found was a situation that would guarantee that dooms our rice industry to extinction as competition increases and globalisation becomes more and more a reality.

    The transfer of technology to the farmer, essential to improve the productivity of our industry seemed to be completely absent, for example precision land levelling using laser guided land preparation tools which has yielded huge dividends elsewhere was never used here, even though Guysuco had such tools since the 1980's and knew that by simply levelling the lands more precisely we can control the water level more efficiently, get more uniform germination and ripening and improve yields up to 35%.   

   And I am not comparing what is taking place in rich the developed nations like the US and the European Union here, I am talking about information contained in "The Hindu" newspaper, the on line edition of India's national newspaper dated Thursday February 21st 2002.

    It says this and I quote it " a set of new agronomic techniques and crop management strategies have raised the hope of increasing the productivity of the crops in the Indo-Gangetic plains lying between the Indian subcontinent and the foothills of the Himalayas"  it continues this way and I quote Dr. Jagdish Kumar Ladha soil nutritionist from the International Rice Research Institute "the grain production here which showed signs of stagnation and declining productivity since 1985, can be made to rise and the farmers' income can go up, if they learn to be more efficient in managing the precious natural resources and key inputs more judiciously" end quote

    What I have been telling you here are the types of things that a vibrant and proactive Ministry of Agriculture should be doing, at all times, to maximise yield in the local industry, I can honestly report that I have not found any of these activities in my research the only entity in the country at Burma conducting research into new varieties seem to be a highly experimental installation and apparently none of what is learnt there gets to the local farmers including any newer higher yielding paddy varieties, and to me it seems that the poor rice farmers in this country are practically on their own when it comes to maximising yields of paddy in their fields, small scale peasant farmers, who make up the major portion of our industry, are incapable of doing the sort of research and implementation of technology I am talking about here, so we continue to get these low yields and that is why the foundation of our rice industry is so brittle that any rise in Fuel can decimate it as I saw happening in Leguan.

        But we have to add a few problems to the Guyana equation due to the incompetence and uncaring attitude of our Ministry of Agriculture, which would not happen anywhere else in the world in a major industry, and raises the question "are we serious about helping our farmers get a better yield and earn more for themselves and for their country?" The answer is again no! But let's examine some of these problems, first on the list seems to be water availability; very few of the rice growing areas seem to have an adequate availability of water when it is needed. Precision land levelling is unheard of so water management is completely unregulated and wasteful, our farmers seem to have to wait sometimes as long as 3 months for fertilizer and currently there is only one fertilizer supplier currently supplying the market, Amazon Chemicals which seemed to be able to provide fertilizer on a timely basis to farmers has unfortunately gone belly up, another business serving the Guyanese people well, which has succumbed to Mr Jagdeo's poor management of the economy, there also seem to be an inadequate supply of the chemicals needed to spray our rice fields for the numerous insects that attack our crop annually resulting in lower yields, there is also evidence that the chemicals to spray for blast was short earlier this year affecting the crop just reaped; these are not complaints that any country should have in its second biggest agricultural crop, the PPP talks glibly about globalisation but we just cannot compete in this manner on a global scale.

   For 30 years since Gavin Kennard left us I do not consider that this country has had a proper Minister of Agriculture! Our best man must go to the Ministry of Agriculture since it is on agriculture that the major portion of our economy is built.       

   Diesoline is around 700 dollars per gallon today and a Guyanese Farmer has to use about 8 gallons of diesel an acre every crop, that's $5600 dollars an acre in fuel alone! and when he does reap his field his earnings based on this ridiculous 25, 180 Lbs. bags of rice Paddy per acre yield, he earns $37,500/acre so his cost in fuel alone to prepare his field to get this low yield of 25 bags an acre amounts to 15% of his total crop earnings, on the other hand if these same farmers had a yield closer to 40 bags per acre which is the average in most other countries, then his total earnings per acre per crop would be $60,000 and not $37,000 and his fuel costs would only be 9.3% of his total earnings, as a result we would have a more solid foundation for our rice industry which would be capable of competing with the rest of the world. It is true that on the surface the PPP has increased rice production since 1992 but the Bank of Guyana statistics tells us that in 1992 we produced 115 million tonnes for export, in 1996 it was 261,823 tonnes but by 2002 it has fallen back to 193,000 tonnes and it is still declining, so It did go up, with the PPP pressing the millers to pay a better price per bag which was not sustainable causing most of the rice industry to be plunged into financial debt, but the foundation to support the expansion was just not there. The farmers were coerced into increasing production alone to produce and plant more low yielding lands and were left holding the wrong end of the stick, as usual!