Water situation critical in agriculture
-- but sugar, rice output not expected to be hard hit
By Chamanlall Naipaul
Guyana Chronicle
March 3, 2003

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THE availability of water in the agricultural sector, especially in relation to sugar and rice, has become a critical factor but has not reached the stage of endangering the output of those crops, officials say.

Due to little rainfall during the last four months, the water level in the conservancies has dropped sharply resulting in water conservation measures and the necessity to pump from creeks and rivers to maintain sufficient water to ensure movement of cane punts and processing of sugar at the nation's eight sugar factories.

Head of the Water Management Department of the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GUYSUCO), Mr. Omadatt Persaud told the Chronicle that water conservation measures were in place on all estates, but noted that there is no immediate danger of losses in crop and production targets.

He said the shortage of water at the Demerara Estates and Blairmont is more pronounced, but in East Berbice the situation is more encouraging.

Because of the extremely low water level in the Boerasirie Conservancy which supplies the West Demerara estates and rice and cash crops with drainage and irrigation water, pumping from the Bonasika and Waramia creeks has begun to maintain enough water for the navigation of cane punts along the canals and trenches, Persaud said.

The punts take reaped cane from the fields to the factories for processing into sugar.

On the East Demerara drastic conservation measures have been implemented, including re-circulation of water and the separation of water for navigation and processing at Enmore Estate, he said.

At Blairmont efforts are under way to obtain water from the Mahaica/Mahaicony/Abary Scheme (MMA) to boost water levels there, Persaud said

In East Berbice water is being obtained from the Canje and Berbice rivers and the Torani Canal and recirculation systems are also in effect, he explained.

He, however, observed that because of the critical water situation the normal threshold levels of salt content in the water around the estates has been exceeded.

He pointed out that the normal threshold level is about 500 parts of salt to 1,000,000 parts of water but the current average proportion is around 1,500 parts of salt to 1,000,000 parts of water.

Should the current climatic trend continue conservation measure would have to be drastically intensified, Persaud indicated but expressed optimism that the current crop would pull through without major difficulties.

The production target for this sugar crop is 136,000 tonnes.

In the rice sector overall the situation is good with harvesting already started in some areas but specific communities have been seriously affected.

General Secretary of the Guyana Rice Producers Association (RPA), Mr. Dharamkumar Seeraj told the Chronicle that the shortage of water has caused some loss of crops in a few locations.

But he also expressed optimism that the crop would be a good one for both farmers and the rice industry as a whole.

Seeraj said that at Nismes on the West Bank Demerara, about 600 acres of paddy have been lost, while at Mahaica, De Hoop, Mahaicony and Leguan 200, 3,000, 1,500 and 70 acres have been lost, respectively.

He said the RPA is in negotiations with the owner of a private canal to pump water through his facility to alleviate the situation on the left bank of the Mahaicony River, but he has not yet given approval.

Negotiations are also under way with MMA authorities for them to release water to another cultivated area in Mahaicony-Area 2 which urgently needs water because it has the "youngest crop" of all the cultivated areas, Seeraj added.

The situation on the Corentyne, Crabwood Creek and Black Bush Polder is stable and harvesting has already begun on the Essequibo Coast, he said.

He said estimated rice production for the current crop is 4.5 million bags of paddy or 2.5 million bags of rice from a total cultivation of 170,000 acres.

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