EPA, farmers must come to a compromise amid concern over burning rice fields – Agri Minister

The content originally appeared on: INews Guyana
The burning of a rice field in Berbice

By: Andrew Carmichael

Amid the ongoing spat between the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Corentyne rice farmers about the burning of rice fields, Agriculture Minister Zulfikar Mustapha believes that the two must find common grounds to deal with the issue.

The EPA recently issued an order for rice farmers to desist from burning their fields but the Rice Producers Association (RPA) lashed back with its President saying the agency was acting in ignorance.

According to the EPA’s order which was issued last week, it is imperative that farmers discontinue burning practices since burning may cause wildfires.

The EPA said farmers should transition to alternative methods for field management including manual removal or ploughing the fields. The order did not go down well with rice farmers with many of them disagreeing with the reasons put forward by the agency.

President of the RPA Leeka Rambrich said EPA’s order is grounded in ignorance.

“The EPA has to take into consideration the fact that the rice industry has been here for over 120 years and Guyana has been exporting rice for over 105 years. We have been burning straw since the inception of this industry. While I understand that the burning of straw is not good for the environment you have other countries that have been producing rice long before Guyana and they burn straw,” Rambrich had responded.

However, the issue was raised with Mustapha on Saturday who told the media that farmers and the EPA must come to a compromise.

“Over the centuries that has been the practice in the rice industry. I don’t think that those fires can cause any major concerns; it is the traditional way the farmers have been doing this,” the minister told this publication.

He added that he has not been able to meet with the head of the EPA since the directive was issued. “I know for a fact that the RPA, GRDB, and the EPA will have to talk to ensure that when these activities happen, it is done in a controlled manner.”

Further, he referred to the smoky conditions that have been prevailing along the East and West Coast and in Region Six during the morning periods. This he attributed to wildfires.He pointed out that the Hydro-meteorological Office informed him that low wind conditions have resulted in the smoke remaining in the atmosphere.

“I am hoping that with that exercise with the rice farmers, the EPA, the GRDB, and the RPA work things together and do it in a controlled manner,” he added.

Meanwhile, the EPA had stated that farmers could bail their straw and remove it from the field arguing that burning releases significant air pollutants such as particulate and specified some of them. The agency noted that the release of such pollutants can adversely affect human health by impairing lung function, exacerbating respiratory diseases, and causing discomfort for individuals with allergies.

The EPA suggested that farmers bail the straw and remove it from their rice fields but Rambrich pointed out that Guyana does not experience winter.

“So that we have to bail straw and keep it, we have enough arable lands that our cattle can go and graze. It is only now because of the dry weather that we are bailing some straw but as soon as the rain starts and the grass starts to grow that would be history,” the RPA boss pointed out.

Addressing the issue of bailing, the agriculture minister pointed out the Guyana Livestock Development Authority (GLDA) has been issuing bailers to farmers so that they can bail their straw. These, he said are spread across the country.