Tony Vieira's Comments
18 October 2017

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TSP Rice
(Aired 6 November 2008)

Dear Editor
     I am responding to letters written in your columns regarding the lack of importation of fertilisers to Guyana for our farmers [especially our rice farmers] particularly the phosphate fertilizers namely Triple Super Phosphate and Di Ammonium Phosphate.

     The highly technical letters you have published so far from what appear to be qualified agronomists currently located overseas, has highlighted some substantial problems which coincide with my own views about problems which our rice industry is experiencing and in this letter I will try to identify some of those problems for the Guyana rice farmers and what they must demand from the authorities to remain viable in an ever increasing competitive world.

    Here is the problem; managers manage projects and systems and they use the scientists/technicians at their disposal to tell them how to overcome technical/scientific problems to make the operation they are in charge of more economically feasible. As such the managers have to make sure that those, on whose behalf they are managing, in this case rice farmers, receive the proper instructions/information in order to function more competitively. That is what these managers were elected to do; the letters in your newspapers suggest that they are not doing their job. And it is true.

     A competent manager must be au fait with new technologies as they emerge and so be in a position to direct his technicians to tell him if they are relevant to his situation of stewardship and if not what he must do; he must also make sure that scientific results obtained by his technical staff be put at the disposal of the people he is serving.

    To form the background to this letter I offer the following information for the farmers; in cultivating commercial crops there are three nutrients which are called macro [big] nutrients which are absolutely necessary, since commercial plants use quite a high amount of them during a growing cycle; these macro nutrients are nitrogen (N), phosphorous (P) and potassium (K) they are the three growth ingredients that fuel a plant's ability to reach its genetic yield potential. Some mixed commercial fertilizers identified are as N:P:K where N=nitrogen P=phosphates and K= potassium are known to many, these N:P:K fertilizers are a mix in various formulations of NPK depending on the type of crop you are growing.

   In Guyana our custom and practice has been to buy fertilizers according to the following formulations; for nitrogen we usually use Urea, Di Amonium Phosphate or Sulphate of Ammonia; for Phosphorous we use either Triple Super Phosphate or Di Amonium Phosphate and for potassium we use mainly Muriate of Potash.

   The letter from Dr. Terrence Fullerton in the Stabroek news dated October 30th 2008 comes very close to the truth in Guyana, when he notes that our farmers can get far better results by adopting a balanced fertilization regime based on the needs of individual fields, instead of the one size fits all approach we now practice.

   Dr. Fullerton also identified a complete managerial break down when he tells us "we also discovered that rice farmers apply fertilizers at the wrong time and in the wrong way" an international journal puts it less delicately it asks "why put fertilizer where and when you don't need it?"

   This is where the Guyana farmers have been short changed, not only is information not getting to them, and there is no excuse for that since instead of using the state media only for political propaganda purposes, they should use it more constructively to disseminate information on better cultivation practices to the rice farmers, that is what it is supposed to be there for, the farmers also do not have the support necessary to get the authorities to conduct soil analyses etc. to guide them as to what fertilizer they need to use and when they need to use it, and that is one of the reasons why they have had the same yields since colonial times around 25-30 bags per acre. Other places are now getting 55 bags per acre. But Dr. Fullerton's letter suggests that this information may already be available so it is a total lack of appreciation, by our officials, of its importance to our rice industry that is gumming up the works; such people have no right to be managing anything.

    The reasons why all of this has now become an international problem apparently not appreciated by the people who are supposed to be managing our agro industries are these; the IFDC an organization established in 1974 to address global food security challenges through improved use of fertilizers and related technologies notes that from January 2007 to January 2008 Di Ammonium Phosphate (DAP) prices rose from US$252 per ton in January 2007 to US$752/ton by January 2008 (U.S. Gulf price); prilled urea rose from US$272/ton to US$415/ ton (Arab Gulf price); and Muriate of potash (MOP) rose from US$172/ton to US$352/ton (Vancouver price). My sources disclose that the price of Triple Super Phosphate is now over US$900 per ton and that the government was told over two years ago that the local suppliers will not be bringing it to Guyana any longer since it is so expensive and incredibly they did nothing about the situation on behalf of the farmers, as usual. 

    In the last few decades, an increasing reliance on industrial fertilizers has led to surging demands for these largely fossil-fuel-based products. Between 1996 and 2008 authorities tell us that in developing countries like Guyana fertilizer cost is nearly double what it costs in developed nations. I don't understand the reasons why this is so Mr. Editor, I am just reporting what my research has uncovered. But it is troubling and needs further investigation.

   The bulk of the increased demand for fertilizer comes from the recent push to devote more land to the production of biofuels mainly ethanol, additionally the cultivation of more grain as animal feed [since the world demand for animal meat has increased] has also placed pressure on existing fertilizer production facilities with a consequent shortage in most countries due to a limited supply being outstripped by demand, this is why synthetic fertilizer prices have increased nearly threefold in the last year alone. Even some US dealers have experienced supply problems, leading them to restrict how much fertilizer each customer can purchase.

    Our local rice farmers who were heartened by the recent rise in rice price are now disappointed since they were not made aware that the cost of fertilizer was going to be very prohibitive and in short supply worldwide, in fact I am not aware that our local rice farmers have a reliable supply of any kind of fertilizer N-P or K and it is an essential ingredient for their yields and it "must" be applied at the right ‘time' and ‘rate' per acre that is an essential maxim of farming.

    Di Ammonium Phosphate [DAP] contains both nitrogen and phosphate so applying DAP alone, can replace the use of both Urea and TSP and if a farmer has to buy Urea and TSP and mix it together with a spade [labour intensive] he may find that the already mixed DAP is better and far cheaper [US$752/ton] for his purposes than a Urea/TSP mix [US$1340/ton] but he has to be advised and guided by someone in authority who is looking into his ongoing well being; our farmers are on a really serious rollercoaster ride up one year and down the next, and some day they will all get fed up and leave; in fact it is clear to me that only rice is maintaining its production levels in Guyana and the reason is that it is very highly mechanised and does not require very good drainage such as sugar cane does. Bad drainage, poor access roads, blocked trenches, lack of proper support by the authorities and shortage of labour have affected all aspects of local agriculture. The Bank of Guyana statistics for 2007 shows this very clearly; except for rice and sugar in 2007 all other crops fell very short of the production levels for the year 2000.  

   The question as to whether we need to apply phosphate to every rice crop in Guyana is a troubling and largely unanswered one and the Ministry of Agriculture and the Rice Development Board have failed our farmers miserably in this regard; to support this I want to quote from the Food and Fertilizer Technology Centre [FFTC] report of 1995 "The use of phosphate (P) fertilizer provides a concentrated form of phosphate with a high residual effect that builds up in the soil. Applying Triple Super Phosphate is thus a kind of soil enhancement which need not be continued indefinitely with every rice season. Reduction and reallocation of phosphate fertilizer use are key elements in a long-term strategy for the efficient utilization of fertilizer.

  Triple Super Phosphate (TSP) is the principal phosphate fertilizer used in Indonesia. According to phosphate maps prepared by the Soil and Agroclimatic Research Center [AARD] 39.7% of rice fields in Java are in a high P-status category, 45.4% in a medium status, and only 14.9% in a low P-status category. In experimental trials in 22 locations in Java, there were no significant differences in rice yield with different levels of TSP application in nearly all areas, including those with a relatively low P-status. Very similar results have been found in trials carried out outside Java, in South Sulawesi and other areas. On the basis of these trials, AARD recommends that Indonesian farmers use 50 kg/ha of TSP every four planting seasons in high P-status areas, 75 kg/ha every two planting seasons in medium P-status areas, and 125 kg/ha every planting season in low P-status areas. It therefore appears that the TSP consumption can be reduced by more than 25% without any adverse effect on rice yields".

  So Mr. Editor increasing fertilizer efficiency is very important especially since fertilizers, as an intermediate input to the production process, may now account for 30-40% percent of total cost of production of agricultural crops. Intelligent use of fertilizers will therefore substantially reduce the production costs borne by our farmers and make them more efficient not to mention that the right applications at the right time will enhance their yields.

    Over and over again I have been saying that farmers in Guyana are left to operate on their own, doing exactly what their fathers and grandfathers did with little or no support from the organizations which are supposed to support and advise them namely the Ministry of Agriculture, the RPA and NARI, we are not aware that any fertilizer trials or soil testing have been conducted in this very important area of fertilization to determine what and how much fertilizer our rice farmers need to apply in certain areas and whether the soil in certain areas of the coastland which may be rich in Phosphates may not need Phosphate fertilizer every crop. Also since our soils are so acidic we may be able to use the far cheaper rock phosphate, apply it every 3-5 crops or so at ploughing time and incorporate it in the soil.  Rock phosphate now costs only around US$200 a ton whilst TSP is around US$900 a ton and Di Ammonium Phosphate is around US$750 a ton these are substantial differences Mr. Editor and should be put into context for our farmers, with the TSP price being that high it is more economical to apply Di Ammonium Phosphate in areas which require phosphate and Urea as a source on N in areas which do not require a phosphate boosts every crop.

   The Minister of Finance however has no problem telling us how well rice is doing as a foreign exchange earner and taking all of the credit for it, what he is not telling us is the nightmarish conditions our poor rice farmers have to endure for it to happen and that even though the price for rice internationally is high the cost of fuel and fertilizers are also now so high that they may not be operating economically his government cannot even secure markets for their Rice in addition to their other problems. Because of the shortage of labour in Guyana and since our rice industry is so mechanized coupled with the fact that rice does not require much drainage for good yield, it is the only commercial crop in this country that will survive without becoming a monstrous drain on the national economy but we have to act now to put in place the mechanisms which will make it more competitive on the world markets.

  For the Stabroek news I would like to extend to the staff there my deepest condolences on the passing of their publisher Mr. David De Caires; we had a special relationship Mr. De Caires and I, he was an old family friend, my father's special friend and lawyer when he was in practice, as the Administrative Manager of Versailles he handled many legal problems for me in the 70's, he was usually upset with me for being as aggressive as I am; when I started my own business in the media he reigned me in on numerous occasions, I now realize that he was right and that being wise is every bit as important as being just intelligent. We have lost someone special and we all must mourn his passing.

Anthony j. Vieira MS MP