Over the years, the rice industry in Guyana has passed through both lean and good times. Prior to 1992, for example, many rice farmers simply abandoned their cultivations and withdrew from the only thing they had known all their lives. These were, indeed, very testing times for the country’s rice sector. But following the PPP’s return to power in 1992, rice farmers returned to their lands and progress in this sector was evident. The cultivation of rice in Guyana, therefore, grew by leap and bounds— so much that today, it has produced doctors, lawyers, educators, politicians, academics and so on from the off-springs of those who toiled the lands.
Rice is grown mainly on our coastal plain where the soil is quite fertile to facilitate agriculture and where conditions are best for cultivation. Like sugar, rice is one of our major contributors to the Gross domestic product (GDP). However, over the years, rice farmers began to face numerous challenges; these include: low prices for paddy, low yields owing to extreme weather patterns – droughts, floods, paddy bugs infestation, and a host of other issues.
In spite of the present administration spinning the statistics in terms of production etc, it is clear that Guyana’s rice yield has not been living up to the expectations of rice farmers, much so that many farmers are no longer motivated to plant their lands.
For some farmers, the low price they receive for their paddy does not enable them to make a reasonable profit as production and labour costs are too high, hence they are not encouraged to increase the amount of rice they grow or even continue rice production. Some of the costs incurred in rice production are: land preparation, this includes drainage and ploughing of the soil; harvesting with a combine; transporting the paddy to a rice mill and labour costs etc. The situation for some rice farmers is so bad that they (usually small and medium-scale farmers) have chosen to rent their lands to large-scale farmers, while others have even resorted to selling theirs for the development of house lots.
If this pattern continues, with escalating prices of input and declining prices of output, production will decrease rapidly and more of the lands would go towards housing development. Not only is this a waste of fertile land, it would also certainly have a negative impact on Guyana’s economy as an export earner and more importantly, our ability to ensure we are food secure.
While there is no control over nature in terms of the changing weather patterns, there are certain interventions which could be made to ensure that the impact of the weather on rice production is minimised to a great extent. For example, in addition to having proper drainage systems in place, there is need to ensure that sluices and kokers are all functioning to their optimum so that excess water could be drained off the land in good time. There is also need to ensure there is an adequate number of pumps in the event of flooding as a result of excess rainfall or high tides. And in terms of dealing with the drought, some persons have proposed digging of water reservoirs.
It should be noted that the then PPP Government had sought to introduce new varieties of rice to withstand the changes in the weather. With the development and distribution of newer varieties of rice paddies, we are ensuring, in the long run, that one of our major exports becomes completely insusceptible to the weather conditions and pests and diseases.
Considering the present low prices being paid to farmers for their rice, the authorities must continue to aggressively search for more attractive markets for Guyana’s rice so that farmers will get a better deal.
That said, with the elections campaign about to heat up, we are certain that rice farmers will be paying close attention to the policies and plans of the various political parties in terms of ensuring the rice industry reaches its optimum. Rice farmers will also look to see which party is offering more incentives to encourage them to return to the fields and expand their production. Guyana cannot afford to allow its rice industry to further deteriorate.