COVID-19 creates opportunity in rice production for women in Guyana

Dear Editor,
The gendered division of labour in the agricultural sector means that female farmers’ experiences with climate change are drastically different from those of their male counterparts. There are significant differences in the experiences of female vs male-headed households, females in male-headed households, and across single-parent households.
Rice, the most widely consumed staple in the world, has been one of the central protagonists in the global food crisis caused by COVID-19. Three-quarters of global rice exports that originate in Asian countries such as India and Thailand have been affected by supply chain disruptions and export reductions due to concerns around domestic food security and climate change-fuelled droughts. The resulting volatility has created market opportunities for smaller producers, Guyana has an opportunity to increase rice production to meet the growing demand. With the highest rice production per capita in the world, Guyana produces nearly ten times more rice per capita than India, which has placed Guyana in 21st place for rice yields (ha/hectare) and number 39 for total production globally, with half of its annual production being exported to more than 30 countries.
Despite its relatively small size, Guyana is the 13th largest net exporter of rice in the world. Unlike its Asian counterparts, Guyana’s rice trade has not been affected by COVID-19. The Guyana Rice Development Board (GRDB) had reported a 13 per cent increase in rice exports between January and May 2020, compared to the corresponding period in 2019.

However, the economic promise of rice to the population of Guyana is neither gender-blind nor environmentally neutral. Guyana’s high vulnerability to climate change, particularly in its coastal areas, coupled with limited opportunities for women in agriculture, creates uncertainty, instability and inefficiency in a number of areas. If rectified, these can fuel a more economically and environmentally resilient future for the Guyanese rice industry.
Over the years, climate change-driven variations in rainfall and temperature have caused flooding, drought, and an increase in pests, diseases and weeds, all of which have affected output. Reports listed flooding as the most significant risk to Guyana’s rice sector, and drought as number 3. Saltwater intrusion due to rising sea level and stronger storm surges is also a major problem, which led to a 16 per cent drop in rice production in 2016.
The rice sector is of major importance to small farmers, with a large number of producers operating on farms of less than 4.5 hectares, making them particularly vulnerable to climate change impacts. Most women farmers fall into this group. Technologies to support resilience and climate change adaptation among smallholder farmers would be beneficial in sustainably increasing productivity and empowering women. Further, because gender-differentiated vulnerabilities to the impacts of climate change are the cumulative result of a complex array of socio-cultural, structural and institutional inequities, climate-smart agriculture and similar efforts should seek to enhance the resource base of women and ensure that women’s contributions to productivity and food security are broadly valued, redressing gendered vulnerabilities and unequal power dynamics in agriculture would help ensure their efficacy and sustainability.
Herein lies an opportunity for Guyana to grow its rice supply. But in order to meet the increasing global demand for rice, it is imperative that climate change vulnerabilities and gender inequalities are simultaneously addressed.

David Adams