Seventeen Berbice, Region Six (East Berbice-Corentyne) rice farmers have been forced to dump their paddy after it was rejected by milers since more than 35 per cent of it was damaged.
In addition to the loss as a result of the paddy bug infestation, many farmers were faced with additional expensed for the current crop after having to pump water into their rice fields. The prolonged dry spell, coupled with difficulties encountered by the regional administration, caused some rice farmer to pump water as many as seven times during the crop as compared with three times on an average per crop.
The region was expected to produce an estimated two million bags of paddy this crop. However, former Rice Producers Association (RPA) Extension Officer, Ramlakhan Singh, says there will be a shortfall of 500,000 bags. This will be reflected in the amount of $1.5 billion on the record books.
Tamishwar Sahadeo, a farmer who cultivates 75 acres of rice at Number 61 Village, Corentyne, says the insects have eaten about 30 per cent of his rice.
In giving a breakdown, Sahadeo told Guyana Times he would usually receive between $375,000 and $400,000 for a truckload of his paddy. However, this crop he is being offered between $275,000 and $280,000 per truckload.
“I was expecting to reap about 40 bags per acre but I only got 25 bags per acre,” he explained.
The infestation forced farmers to apply pesticides as many as 17 times during the crop, where as they would apply the pesticides on four occasions to control the pests.
According to Sahadeo, he had to sell four heads of cattle to garner funds to acquire the pesticides during this crop.
Dininnauth Totaram, who cultivated 119 acres at Number 54 Village, told this publication he was forced to quadruple the applications of the pesticide to his rice in order to control the paddy bug infestation. “That money supposes to last me for three more crops and I have to invest it in this crop because of the paddy bugs,” the farmer said.
He estimates $40,000 invested every time he applies the insecticide to his crop, resulting in an additional $500,000 invested on his 119-acre plot.
“When I went to reap this time, the bugs still plenty and when I went to sell, I getting between $30,000 and $31,000 a ton which in I suppose to get $40,000 a ton. Every load of paddy you carry to the mill, you losing about $100,000,” he said.
The infestation has been widespread, affecting farms are far away as Crabwood Ceek, Corentyne Coast.
Rice farmers in East and West Canje and on the East Bank of Berbice have not been spared.
Following reports of the infestation in the region in early March, Agriculture Minister Noel Holder announced that the infestation was under control and that the Guyana Rice Development Board (GRDB) had put systems in place to prevent re-infestation of paddy bugs.
General Manager of GRDB, Nizam Hassan, is quoted as saying that the Board had implemented a number of measures to reduce the infestation of paddy bugs on rice.
However, the bugs have spared no rice farmer. Teekapersaud Nolchand, who has won several awards from the Rice Producers Association (RPA) for the quality of paddy he produces, has had his paddy being considered of a very poor quality this crop. According to him, he cultivated three different varieties of rice, totalling 120 acres.
“I have never encountered paddy bugs like this in my life,” the rice farmer of 21 years told Guyana Times. Nolchand said he tried all of the available chemicals during the crop and none seemed to have worked satisfactory.
“What I noticed is the GRDB 15 (name given to one variety of rice) is attracting the paddy bug more than any other paddy. The GRDB 10, I only got six per cent damage; the Brazilian variety, I got four per cent damage rate; and the GRDB 15 and got more than 30 per cent damage.”
He added that for the GRDB 15, more applications of insecticides were needed to control the bugs.
“For paddy bugs alone, I spray 16 times on a field; so it is not neglect of spraying. I don’t know what really happened.”
Nolchand is recommending that something new be introduced to curb the re-infestation of paddy bugs.
However, Ramlakhan Singh, a former RPA Extension Officer, is calling on Government to intervene and treat the situation as a national disaster.
The Region Six economy has been fragile since the firing of thousands of sugar workers, as Government sought to downsize the sugar industry; closing several sugar estates.
In December 2017, Government closed the Rose Hall and Skeldon Estates in Region Six.
Some 1851 workers were sacked from the Skeldon Sugar Estate, while 1181 were terminated from the Rose Hall Estate. Another 1480 were fired from the East Demerara Sugar Estate, and 251 from the Wales Sugar Estate.
Region Six had depended heavily on sugar, and with the closure of two of the three sugar estates in the region, this has caused all other sectors to be affected.