September 28, 2016

Another endangered industry

Selective rising prices, stagnant wages, unemployment and underperforming industries and utility services can best describe events in the economy now also deep into a period of drought that has made things even harder.
Can it get any more dismal? Apparently it can.
Now, arbitrary decisions such as the sudden move to halt aerial rice crop spraying due to perceived pesticide and fertiliser worries has left an already reduced-by-drought rice industry in a state of limbo.
Was there any industry consultation? Was there an emergency plan for farmers to switch to a Pesticide Board approved Brand X or to another cost-effective process, instead of the abrupt command to stop?
According to the Agriculture Minister, a policy on aerial spraying is currently being drafted and should be revealed in the next two months. That may be so but what happens to the rice crops in the meantime?
The insect infestation and the need for fertilisers will not wait for a policy so by the time that is sorted out who knows what will happen to the crops needing spraying now.
The farmers know, if not the pesticide board and the government: along with the effects of the drought, crops will die of infestation while the lack of fertiliser will create inferior quality rice and low yields, further reducing rice farmers’ livelihoods as well as perhaps induce rice shortages in the country, along with the possible rejection of Guyana’s rice on the world market – a market already also in limbo.
It is admirable for the government to seek a “Green Guyana” policy, but it must be done with regard for the livelihoods of all concerned, and measures immediately put in place to provide alternative greener and sustainable policies. We cannot starve the horse while the grass grows.
While there have been many countries that have indeed banned aerial spraying due to human safety concerns, in Guyana it is the responsibility of the Pesticide and Toxic Chemicals Control Board (PTCCB) and the agriculture ministry to facilitate a plan that seeks to provide safer alternatives without hurting ordinary citizens and the rice industry.
The Board made the decision based on what they described as safety concerns for citizens but it was also necessary for them to meet with all concerned, including the rice industry, to quickly find these alternative “green measures”, not jeopardise the already crippled industry.
In coming to their decision – a process that only a select few at the board seem to be aware of – the PTCCB should have informed those involved in the rice industry, including those who import the chemicals, of their pending decision so that appropriate and immediate plans could be put in place to cater for the ban.
In so doing, the current situation would have been mitigated or at the least made provision for by rice farmers.
The fact that there are few alternatives to aerial spraying means those involved need to look at those alternatives that include increased buffer zones and advance notice to persons who may be affected by drift.
It should not include uneconomical alternatives that further deplete the finances of the industry.
Whatever decisions are made requires the PTCCB to stop endangering livelihoods with decisions that offer no alternatives. Along with government input, the relevant agencies need to work together to form a plan to allow for the ban not to adversely affect rice farming in Guyana.

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