Kaieteur News – For most of the 20th century until the 1980’s when the Guyana economy collapsed, the economy rested on the tripod of Sugar, Bauxite and Rice, with Rice being the most junior partner. Today, Rice has become more important to the Guyana Economy than either Sugar or Bauxite, and promises to be more so in the next several years.
In the last quarter of the 18th century, some sugar plantation owners wished to experiment with rice as a food for slaves and so they imported rice from Carolina in the USA. The experiment was unsuccessful but some escaped slaves had taken some of the rice with them and planted it in their hideouts along the river banks. The slave hunters were able to trace the escaped slaves by their rice cultivation and the escapees discontinued their rice cultivation. The rice planted was short-grain and rice cultivation disappeared from Guyana for almost a century.
After the African slaves were emancipated, indentured immigrants were brought in to fill their place. The largest group of indentures came from India. Rice was a staple food for the Indians and though some rice was initially imported, this was soon discontinued as some Indians unobtrusively attempted to grow it. They had to grow it outside of the plantations on which they worked and if they were near a river or creek, they grew it on the banks.
By the middle of the 1860’s there were a number of indentures who settled in the colony at the end of their contracts and they grew more rice than they or their families needed. The small surplus was sold in the markets. It should be mentioned that seed rice was brought from India and was a long grain variety, different from the short grain Carolina rice which was grown in the 18th century. The Guyana industry continued to use the Indian long grain and by the end of the first decade of the 20th century some rice began to be exported to the Caribbean islands. This export trade kept expanding and Guyana also became self-sufficient in rice.
With the discovery of Oil and the establishment of the oil and gas industry and the earning of Oil revenues, there was a strong pull to focus on the lucrative Oil Industry and ignore the former industries which had supported the country, quietly allow them to decline.
Had it yielded to the pull, Guyana would eventually have been infected with the Dutch Disease as has been the case of Venezuela. Guyana is meeting the threat of the Dutch Disease by strengthening its old industries and founding new ones; in other words Guyana is continuing to diversify its Economy while at the same time building its Oil Industry. In this effort, Guyana is strengthening and expanding its Agriculture base with one goal being the capacity development to supply CARICOM’s food requirements.
Rice is an important part of the Agriculture Sector and President, Dr Irfaan Ali recently at the launching of a high yielding variety GRDB16 remarked “The Rice Industry accounts for approximately 60% of the country’s agricultural exports. We are working on expanding our rice production and are projecting rice production to grow by 79% to one million metric tonnes by 2025”. Dr Mahendra Persaud, the Chief Scientist of the Guyana Rice Development Board (GRDB), in his remarks at the launch, endorsed President Ali’s projection and said that with the new variety Guyana’s rice production levels will increase tremendously and pointed out that Guyana is one of the small group of rice producers who could produce over six tonnes per hectare. “I would like to see,” said Dr Mahendra Persaud, “our productivity increasing constantly, hopefully achieving seven tonnes per hectare in the coming years. This candidate variety we are launching today has demonstrated the good partnership between the researcher and the farmer, because without the farmers we couldn’t have achieved the type of results we have today”.
I will eat a piece of Exxon Christmas Cake with your ingredients inside.
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