By Lakhram Bhagirat
The Mahaica-Berbice Region has been consistently ranked as the region that produces the largest amount of rice in Guyana and there are plans afoot to expand that production by opening more lands for the farmers.
Agriculture Minister Zulfikar Mustapha, late last year, committed to expanding the Region’s production by 100 per cent in the next five years – a task that would see major infrastructural changes in the Region’s landscape.
Over the past three months, we have seen how volatile the farmlands are in the Region. Since mid-May, a large part of the Region has been underwater and the water is slowly receding and leaving behind it, devastation of exceptional magnitude.
The Persaud brothers – Dhanraj and Richard – controls about 800 acres of farmlands at Esau and Jacob, Mahaicony and have taken out massive loans to develop that land and convert it to suit their needs. Now they are scratching their heads and trying to determine what will be their next move since the flood water destroyed 220 acres of harvest-ready rice.
On the land that the brothers’ control, they plant rice as well as rear livestock.
Sunday Times travelled to Mahaicony where it met with Dhanraj who explained the situation they are currently faced with. He said that they come from a rice farming background since his father was involved in the business.
They would work with his father in their lands but about ten years ago the duo decided to venture off on their own and acquired lands. They bought the lands through bank loans and acquired others through leases.
In the years that the brothers have been farming, they have never experienced such devastation. Their lands were flooded but they were always able to pump the water off the lands but the recent floods, as a result of the overtopping of sections of the Mahaicony River, caused irreparable damages.
However, Dhanraj explains that the water level in the fields could have been controlled but shoddy works by a road contractor contributed to their significant losses.
“These tubing cause it (the flood) because during the previous administration them do this road and cast the tubing on the concrete wall so we can’t lock these tubing. We could ah save rice by pumping out the rainwater but when we get the water by the overtopping of the Mahaicony River we couldn’t control it,” he explained.
Dhanraj further related that the former government embarked on construction without consulting the farmers and when they objected, the objections fell on deaf ears. The farmer said that they formed a group and met with the contractors that were executing the roadworks and informed him to put provisions in place so that the tubing can act as a koker.
However, that was not done.
“They do about 8 tubings and none them nah put koker pon. The man that been a run this work we tell he that he got to put door and he do nothing. When the flooding come the government help, we with the excavator and how them a block the tubing the creek water come here with a force and blowing out the thing. We couldn’t block it because every day the water force a push it out,” he said.
The government through the Agriculture Ministry’s National Drainage and Irrigation Authority (NDIA) attempted to protect the farmers in the Esau and Jacob area by creating a makeshift embankment to prevent the water from devasting them, but that was unsuccessful. The embankment could not prevent the water and in the end, all the lands were flooded.
“Government real try with we because the water was in excess and they send excavator to help we. How the excavator been a block um, so the water come and it ah overtop um… Nuff farmer loss. We get about 800 acres that we a control and plant but presently some farmers get cow on them. The Ministry of Agriculture asked that we put some cows on it because some ah the land we get is high…the water was covering this whole road. We went pumping out water deh and then one ah me engine bruck deh,” Dhanraj noted.
The Persaud brothers were preparing to begin harvesting when the flood came. They were not able to reap any benefits from their hard work put in to care for the rice fields.
When asked to explain the magnitude of their losses, Dhanraj tells me that every acre would bring about 35 bags of paddy but he is calculating 30 bags per acre. They would be paid $3400 per bag for paddy so if one is to calculate his losses it would be a total of 6600 bags of paddy at $3400 per bag which is over $22.4 million.
That amount is just from one field the brothers’ farm.
In addition to losing rice, Dhanraj said that lost over 130 goats to the flood.
“We owe Demerara Bank for the land and you nah go want hear is how much I does have to pay them…we does got to pay them $30 million every crop but we go cant reach this. We a wait for this water to go down and then see how to pick up. The government say they will give we assistance so we a wait to see what they will give we,” he said.
While they are waiting on the water to recede, Dhanraj and the other farmers have come up with what they think are solutions to prevent such a reoccurrence. According to him, they would have to first replace the tubing in the road and build them as kokers so that water can be controlled.
They are also proposing that the area be impoldered because it is a prime rice farming area.
“We need to get the koker fixed and if it nah fixed farmer doomed here. The previous administration we plea with them to see with we and we couldn’t even put the door because them cast down the edge. We told the Minister of Agriculture and he said he will look at it…They tried their best with all the farmers. I didn’t mek any money and everything lost. I got workers and we got to go in savings to pay them.”