“I really love farming, especially rice….at least two times per week I go to visit the rice lands and normally walk five miles in the morning.”
By Leon Suseran
This week, we feature a simple, ordinary man who has been farming rice for over half a century.
It started with him, at the tender age of 16, observing his father plant rice in the fields at Number 72 Village, Corriverton. He embraced the agricultural practice, moved to the then newly-established Black Bush Polder, purchased modern rice-farming equipment, and expanded the business.
Today, Thakoor Persaud cultivates more than 375 acres of rice and has lived most of his life in Black Bush Polder, watching the rice-farming industry transform from ancient to modern in front of his very eyes. For years, too, he has been involved in community work, listening to the concerns of farmers, giving advice, and being a sitting member on committees that oversee the recommendation of public assistance moneys to vulnerable single parents, etc.
Persaud said that his parents, Baijnauth and Soogie, were rice farmers. “I was born in a family in which we were 18 brothers and sisters!” he exclaimed.
He attended Massiah Canadian Missionary School after which he wrote the School-Leaving Exam at age 13. He later wrote the Pupil Teachers’ Appointment exam at which he was successful.
Due to the large family, he stated that his parents could not have afforded to send him to secondary school, so “I was forced to go into farming to assist my parents, at the age of 16 and I started to do bull-ploughing with oxen in land preparation and from that— the reaping stage, we normally used to cut the rice with grass-knife and bundle it and fetched it on the oxen.”
“It was a family thing. Normally, we would do job work with other farmers. We only had six acres of rice at that time…so we earned a living out of that too.”
EARLY RICE-PLANTING PROCESSES AND BLACK BUSH POLDER SCHEME
As can be expected, Persaud is very knowledgeable about rice-farming practices, and described the original process of planting rice and getting it to other stages, most of which were done manually.
“You leave the oxen— put a tree in the centre of the ground where you are going to trash it…and the oxen would normally walk right away round… five, six times, and somebody on top of the tree has to get a piece of stick and let the oxen go round and round.”
He added that during this walking process, this separates the paddy from the straw, “and when that is separated, you use a pitch-fork and you shake it out and the paddy remains on the bottom and you throw away the straw.” The process continued the following day which he described as the “fanning of the paddy.”
“That is a process whereby you get rid of the rice-husk, and then you full it in bags and then transport it to the factory— at that time, they were doing parboiled rice.”
In 1961, Persaud’s father applied for land in Black Bush Polder, which was scheduled to open in those days. He successfully acquired 16 acres of additional rice land and 2 1/2 acres of homestead. The family constructed a house that same year in Black Bush and he moved there.
“He traveled now and again— sometimes he [his father] rode bicycle from Number 72 to Black Bush Polder and looked after the rice and ride and go back.”
On May 17, 1961, Black Bush Polder was declared open by then Minister of Agriculture, Brindley Benn at Lesbeholden. The purpose for creating such a scheme, Persaud recalled, was to push the agriculture drive “and create farming— cash crops and other ground provisions in the homestead.”
The area, he said, saw an influx of persons coming from all over the country, “from as far as Mahaica, Wakenaam, to live here to do farming with their families.”
A FAMILY BUSINESS
Since then, Thakoor and his wife, Esther, planted rice and also ventured into ground provision farming and cash crops. These were taken to the Port Mourant and Skeldon Markets to be sold. His rice-farming did continue through the years, as he bought his own land in 1969 and continued cultivation at Plot #53 Mibikuri South.
In 1974, he purchased his first piece of rice-farming equipment, a tractor. He reflected that he certainly didn’t need the oxen anymore.
He then started to do hand-planting, “where you throw the seedlings at one spot…and then when it reach around 5-6 weeks, you start to root it and prepare the land and employ people to do hand-planting. At that time there was no fertilizer available…and you would still get very good yield— the #79 paddy.”
Persaud employed persons, but still did the rooting himself.
More than a decade later, in 1985, he purchased two other plots for his two elder sons, followed by another purchase a few years later. He got his sons, Deonarine, Harrinarine, Chetram, and Chandradatt as well as his 24-year-old grandson Narinedatt, into the business as well. Currently, the family is cultivating over 375 acres of land. They own a combine, three trucks and five tractors.
With the new variety, 10, 11, 12 and Rustic, Aromatic varieties, he said the yields are approximately 45 bags per acre at present.
“In the 1960’s and 1970’s, a lot of lands were abandoned due to uncleaned canals, and a lot of people started to rear cattle on the land. But today they are in very good shape and we are having efficient irrigation and drainage.”
“I really love farming, especially rice….at least two times per week, I go to visit the rice lands and normally walk five miles in the morning.”
He leaves around 05:00 hrs and reaches back home around 08:30 hrs.
“We check the water levels….apply insecticides and see if the crops need fertilizer.”
REFLECTIONS ON RICE
When asked if rice-farming is hard work, the farmer said he enjoys doing it.
“It’s hard sometimes, but sometimes you get to relax.” Some of the difficulties he faces today as a rice farmer include the issue of the intake of paddy “…that the amount of acreage is increasing at present—last crop, at least for 2,3 days, it stayed outside of the factory.”
Persaud is a mentor in his community and also the entire Corentyne area, as many rice farmers regularly seek his advice and counsel about issues and problems they face on a daily basis. Sometimes, he said, the farmers would turn up at his home very early in the mornings to discuss issues and problems and “it is very hard to turn them away”.
While he achieves very good yields, sometimes the weather makes things a bit difficult, “but you have to live with it and fight it and you always get something.” His biggest crop was the 2013 Spring crop where he yielded over 50 bags per acre.
There are two rice crops per year. For the past four crops, Persaud said that he has been reaping very early so the land can be ploughed back quickly, “so the land has foundation at present.”
Fertilizer, he said, is applied to the land before broadcasting, “when you finish land preparation, you use the machine to spread out the fertilizer to the land, and then you apply the seed, so the germination picks up faster— the underwater cultivation really prevents red rice and weeds on the land, so you get clean paddy to reap.”
Persaud revealed that he is in good health and does not have any chronic disease.
“I don’t have a clinic card at any hospital, just a bit of waist pains sometimes—no diabetes or hypertension—and I eat anything. I do a lot of walking. I feel I am in good health at present to continue by the grace of God.”
Persaud also added that he cannot live in the USA, even though he has all the rights. Whenever he visits, he cannot stop thinking about his home and business. He telephones home all the time to find out how his farm is doing, he said with a laugh.
“I still keep calling every morning— the boys— and ask them what happen to the rice fields…Every morning 5 o’ clock— my interest is here. I should have gotten citizenship in the USA five years ago and also pension…but I can’t make it there,” he admitted.
Our ‘Special Person’ has a lot of confidence in the rice- farming business.
“A lot of people have elevated themselves with rice farming, but in Black Bush Polder, the senior citizens who were the first people who came to live in here have died— actually over 80 per cent, so we are the second generation.”
His advice to rice farmers is to listen to the technical advice from officers in the rice fields from NAREI, etc, and to attend seminars, “and normally who don’t attend, we talk to them…how they should go about farming… and they have better results.”
He regularly attends seminars, having undergone training in Cuba in 1988 in the agricultural field. Additionally, he is calling on all rice farmers to make frequent checks on their rice lands.
“You can’t sit down home and not check your rice fields…You have to do regular checks, because you don’t know when certain diseases would attack the rice.”
Currently, he said most farmers are having good yields “and NAREI is doing good work too, especially with the varieties they are having at present…more high-yielding varieties, so rice farming is really paying off at present.”
When he is not doing rice-farming, Persaud and his wife, enjoy tending to their kitchen garden.
“Normally, my time during the day is taken up with rice farmers’ problems….problems with land titles. I make representation for them. I invite Lands and Surveys (Commission) to come in the polder and discuss with the farmers.”
Additionally, Persaud is fulfilling his obligations as a community worker, too, since he is part of several sub- committees in Region 6, including the Local Board of Guardians, popularly known as the Public Assistance Committee; Old Age Pension Committee, and he is a Justice of the Peace and Commissioner of Oaths to Affidavits, by way of which he provides voluntary services. Persaud has also been the Neighbourhood Democratic Council (NDC) Chairman of Mibikuri since 1994 and a RDC Councillor since 1985.
He summarized his purpose in life as being “to serve humanity”.
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