Paddy bugs have led to the loss of almost 20% of the rice crop in Region 6 so far this year. Reports are that a similar loss has been experienced in Region 2 and smaller amounts in Regions 3 and 5. For Region 6 alone, this loss translates into the loss of 500,000 bags of paddy, equating to the loss of $1.4B in revenue for farmers.
Overall, Guyanese rice farmers are estimated to lose about $5B this year, having already lost more than $5B in 2018. Most of these are poor farmers, and it is unconscionable that the Guyana Rice Development Board (GRDB) and the Ministry of Agriculture are largely missing in action. Even more unforgiveable, the President and APNU+AFC have ignored the suffering farmers, being more obsessed with violating the constitution and avoiding elections.
It has been confirmed, rice production fell by 10% in the first half of 2019. The major reason advanced for the drop in production of rice is the devastation caused by paddy bug infestation, mainly in Regions 2 and 6.
In 2014, Guyana produced more than 637,000 tons of rice. In the first crop of 2015, production reached almost 400,000 tons, far ahead of the pace to meet the 2015 target of 700,000 tons. But Guyana failed to reach the 2015 target because of a significant drop in production for the second 2015 crop. Guyana failed again in 2016, 2017 and 2018, and now it is highly unlikely Guyana will reach the 700,000 target in 2019. One of the major reasons for production missing the 700,000 target in 2017, 2018, and now in 2019, is the paddy bug infestation.
This week, the GRDB finally sought to assure everyone the paddy bug problem limiting rice production in the last two years, particularly in Regions 2 and 6, is being seriously addressed. According to the GRDB, two experts in paddy bug control were in Guyana last week, under the auspices of FLAR (Latin-American Fund for Irrigated Rice), to assist farmers in controlling paddy bugs. However, few farmers have confidence the GRDB is of any help in fighting paddy bugs.
The Central Corentyne Chambers of Commerce (CCCC) called out the GRDB for its sloth and its lack of serious interest in the paddy bug problem. Like the farmers, the CCCC called on the GRDB to declare the paddy bug problem an emergency. While supporting this call, I believe the Ministry of Agriculture must lead the fight against the paddy bug emergency.
The paddy bugs are not new to Guyana, but it has emerged as a bigger problem in the last couple of years, seriously affecting production. After meeting with the FLAR experts, farmers contend the recommendations made by the experts are things they are already doing. Some of the things are not possible without the direct intervention of GRDB, the Ministry of Agriculture, and other government entities.
Farmers believe the GRDB and the Ministry of Agriculture are not just clueless, but they have little to no serious interest in assisting farmers in the fight against paddy bugs. I entirely concur with the farmers. The GRDB and the Ministry of Agriculture have been negligent, and have allowed the paddy bug problem to escalate, careen out of control, and it is now an emergency.
It is a good thing GRDB, after more than two years of neglect, sought to bring in FLAR. However, farmers, while not questioning the expertise of the two FLAR experts, noted neither of them is an entomologist. This begs the question – what happened to the resident and local entomologists, persons very familiar with paddy bugs in Guyana?
Dr. Vivian Baharally is a resident entomologist who is an employee of the GRDB and works out of the Burma Rice Research Centre. After her studies abroad, Dr. Baharally returned home and started working at Burma since, at least, 2014.
Another young entomologist just returned home. While retired, there are also two other very experienced entomologists living in Guyana – Dr. Leslie Munroe and Dr. Dindial Permaul are not only experienced entomologists, they both have extensive research experience and management experience with paddy bugs. Why were these persons not engaged in the paddy bug fight?
In 2014, the GRDB, with support from the Ministry of Agriculture, and my own engagement, commenced a $90M initiative for the management and control of paddy bugs in Guyana’s rice industry. Dr. Baharally was the lead scientist in this initiative. The initiative was led by a team of experts chaired by Dr. Munroe. But before the initiative gathered speed, the government changed, and most of the persons in charge at the GRDB were either forced to resign or were fired. The initiative died. It is no coincidence, therefore, that the paddy bug today has a destructive presence in Guyana.
Many of the field officers were reporting the increasing paddy bug presence since 2016, but their reports fell on deaf ears. The GRDB clearly dropped the ball and their response is still too timid, lacking cohesion. The Ministry of Agriculture has been absolutely negligent. The Ministers of Agriculture have shown a complete lack of interest. In fact, farmers query if Guyana has any Minister of Agriculture.
Dr. Leslie Ramsammy
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