September 28, 2016

Rice farmers concerned over aerial spraying ban

… say crops could be adversely affected

By Andrew Carmichael

Rice farmers are now on the receiving end of a barrage of punches after being given the mandatory eight-count as a result of Government’s slothfulness to address the harsh reality of the El Niño phenomenon.
Now they are wobbling as the Pesticide and Toxic Chemicals Control Board (PTCCB) has issued a ban on a local aircraft company from spraying their crops with pesticides and fertilisers.

PRO of NPCL  Haseef Yusuf and CEO Mohain Persaud at the head table at Thursday’s press conference

PRO of NPCL  Haseef Yusuf and CEO Mohain Persaud at the head table at Thursday’s press conference

A motor blower on demonstration on Thursday

A motor blower on demonstration on Thursday

This could be the end of rice cultivation in Guyana, one farmer said, as rice farmers in Region Four (Demerara-Mahaica), Region Five (Mahaica-Berbice) and Region Six (East Berbice-Corentyne) will be adversely affected in their operations even as they try to cope with low market prices.
At a press conference held last Thursday at Nand Persaud and Company Limited (NPCL) situated at Number 37 Village, Corentyne, Berbice, and attended by more than 25 rice farmers, the implications of the decisions by the PTCCB were highlighted.
Public Relations Officer (PRO) Haseef Yusuf of NPCL, the company that produces Karibee Rice, told the media that farmers are likely to lose their crop because of the heavy infestation of paddy bug and caterpillars.
He explained that collectively, close to 10,000 acres of rice is cultivated by those farmers.
“If there is no spraying soon, farmers will lose their crop. The denial by the Pesticide and Toxic Chemicals Control Board for aerial spraying also comes at a time when they were severely affected by a drought and now rainfall,” he said.
In the Black Bush Polder area, rice is under threat as a result of constant recent flooding and prolonged rainfall.
Yusuf said the PTCCB was winding up to throw the knock-out punch as the farmers are already wobbling. The PTCCB took the decision to block Air Services Limited (ASL), from conducting aerial spraying of rice fields followed complaints to the Board from members of the public over the possible harmful effects such spraying could have on communities in close proximity to rice fields which utilise that system to spray their crop.
However, Yusuf argues that the only large farmers utilise the facility offered by ASL and, as a result, most of the fields which are sprayed by means of aerial spraying are not close to residential communities.
The next best option the farmers have to spray their fields is by the use of motor blowers or hand spraying. According to the farmers, with aerial spraying, they utilise 20 per cent less of the chemical.
They also claim that with aerial spraying, there is only an overlap of about 10 feet while there is an overlap of about 20 to 30 feet if using a motor blower. They also claim that with the hand spraying method, there could be an overlap of up to 70 feet.
Agriculture Minister Noel Holder has been contacted on the issue and has since met with the PTCCB.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has also met with the PTCCB to discuss their position on the aircraft company’s Environmental Management Plan (EMP). At Thursday’s press conference, the farmers noted that using aerial means of spraying is efficient and environmentally careful.
The affected farmers also noted that currently, there is a scarcity of labour with workers refusing to travel 17 miles into the backdam where rice fields are located. They say the Guyana Sugar Corporation should also be stopped from conducting aerial spraying if a ban is being implemented on them.
“The drugs we use would make persons become impotent when you deal with it for a long time. That is why many people who work in the backdam would get problems at home and it ends up in suicide,” one farmer commented.
He also said that with aerial spraying, even persons who may be in a residential area and are at risk of being affected, will only be affected for about five minutes for four times annually while someone who works in the field doing manual spraying will be exposed to the chemicals for more than five hours daily for several weeks per crop.
Another farmer, Harry Beharry, of Region Six, argued that priority should be given to safety. He said the Pesticide Board is now becoming a pest.
“Look who make up the Pesticide Board, none of them are into farming, they sit in an office and want to make decisions about what goes on in the field. There is a more even distribution with aerial spraying. You use less drugs using aerial spraying,” he said.
Mohammed Rahim of Region Five, who is in the business of rice farming for more than 20 years and currently cultivates in excess of 9000 acres of rice, noted that the current weather conditions are ideal for paddy bugs. He said the Pesticide Board should not be involved in the method used to fertilise and treat the crop but only in the type of chemicals which are being used in the field.
According to Minister Holder, the regulations on aerial spraying stipulate that the plot of land being sprayed by means of aerial spraying should be one mile away from others. He also noted that in Berbice, there are cattle being raised where rice is being grown.
The Minister says, currently a policy document on aerial spraying is being drafted and in another two months, it should be out. “What we want is a green Guyana,” he noted.
The farmers are asking the PTCCB to rescind on its decision. Yusuf says currently, the rice crop is greatly infested by paddy bugs and caterpillars and if left untreated, will result in low yield and poor quality paddy and rice.
“Manual spraying is not effective since there is an acute shortage of manual labour and it is impossible to treat the nearly 50,000 acres of rice under cultivation in Region Six alone. The rice farmers are already faced with low prices and high costs of production.
The use of technology in the form of aerial spraying is their only salvation at this time.”

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