Major crops safe for now
Rice could be in trouble if no rain By Miranda La Rose
Stabroek News
January 18, 2002

Indications are that the current rice and sugar crops, the agricultural mainstay of the country, are likely to survive the current dry weather the country is experiencing. But if the spell continues in the third quarter, rice could be seriously affected.

Because of the current dry season, a number of rice farmers have not planted as they were awaiting the seasonal December rains.

Rainfall for the last half of last year has been abnormally low and current predictions are that the dry spell will continue into the second quarter. An alert has been issued about the likelihood of the El Nino phenomenon recurring.

Agricultural Director of the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GUYSUCO), Dr Harold Davis, Jnr, told Stabroek News yesterday that at this stage of the current dry spell, it would be premature to say that sugar was under stress.

Sugar is a 12-month crop, he said, and in spite of the current dry weather the projection for production this year was good. GUYSUCO manages its water wells and is currently recycling water, so the corporation did not anticipate the current yields to suffer. GUYSUCO, he said, stored and circulated water to deal with situations such as the current one.

Even though last year was difficult and the latter half of the year was dry, Davis said, GUYSUCO produced 12,000 tonnes more of sugar than the previous year. This year, GUYSUCO is expecting in excess of 300,000 tonnes, provided the dry spell ends.

Rice Producers Association General Secretary, Dharamkumar Seeraj, said yesterday that the hardest hit rice-growing areas were the islands of Wakenaam and Leguan, which were highly dependent on rainfall for irrigation. Other rice farming communities on the coastland depend on conservancies, but the islands do not have that facility.

Many farmers had been awaiting the seasonal rains, which never came and did not plant, so that out of a possible 4,800 acres of rice land at Leguan only 930 acres were planted. Wakenaam, which was more seriously affected, planted only 106 acres out of a possible 7,000.

Of the 32,000 acres of cultivable land on the Essequibo Coast, just under 24,800 acres were planted. The area, Seeraj said, was relatively safe because of the sources from which farmers obtained water. These include the Tapakuma Lake, Lake Mainstay and Lake Ituribisi. The water levels in the lakes had dropped, he said, but the regional administration had installed mobile pumps at Dawa to draw water from the Pomeroon River into the Tapakuma Lake and another at Manakuru Creek.

The areas most adversely affected by the dry weather conditions in Region Two (Pomeroon/Supenaam), he said, were Coffee Grove, Walton Hall and Windsor Castle as well as some at the Charity end. Farmers were aware of the situation and were not opening the sluices. At present, he said, water was in the system to pull the crops through, but if there was no rain by June rice farmers would be in dire straits and the lakes would not be able to supply water to plant the autumn crop. The big rice farmers planted two crops, while smaller farmers managed three crops a year.

The RPA, he said, was advising farmers to work along with the association, the Agriculture Ministry and other relevant bodies to ensure that whatever mechanisms were put in place to conserve water would be observed.

In Region Three (West Demerara/Essequibo Islands), Seeraj said, other hard hit areas were Crane, Waller's Delight and Nismes which were downstream of the Boeraserie Conservancy where the water was below the Depth Storage Level (DSL). The fear was that if the water continued to dry up, the salinity content would increase.

Parika, Vergenoegen, Ruby and Greenwich Park on the East Bank Essequibo were also affected, though not as badly as they have begun to pump water from the Bonasika Creek into the Boeraserie Conservancy, which had to be carefully monitored as the rice and sugar industries shared the conservancy's water. Seeraj expressed concern that the system could become overloaded if GUYSUCO started to pull water. There would be a need to monitor the situation as small rice farmers could really feel the crunch, he said.

In Region Four, the situation was being better controlled. Water problems in the Hope Estate/Belfield area, were due more to clogged canals than the flow of water and this situation was being addressed, he said. A visit to the East Demerara Conservancy, he said, revealed that it was fairly healthy with the water level being about 18 inches above the DSL.

In Region Five (Mahaica/West Berbice), Seeraj said, a lot of rice had been planted and even though the water level in the MMA conservancy was below the DSL, it was expected that the crops would pull through. He noted that during the last El Nino -- 1997/1998 -- the farmers' crops were saved. However, if the rains did not come by June, they were not likely to plant another crop for the year.

Earlier in the week, Seeraj noted, the Region Five administration met officials of the RPA, GUYSUCO, Drainage and Irrigation Board and Mahaica/Mahaicony/Abary programme to look at ways of dealing with the issue. Among the agreements reached was that the canals would be cleared for water flow.

He said that Region Six rice crop was under heavy stress, but a number of pumps had been deployed in the region to pump water to the affected areas -- mainly between Number 52 and Number 74 villages on the Corentyne.