By Jarryl Bryan
As 2023 draws to a close, the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Government has revealed that rice, one of the several non-oil economic sectors that have continued to grow, raked in over $45 billion in export earnings.
This is according to Minister of Agriculture Zulfikar Mustapha, who during an end-of-year press conference on Saturday at the Ministry’s Shiv Chanderpaul Drive office explained that the rice industry’s earnings represent an increase of over $3 billion compared to 2022 and production, a 7 per cent increase.
“In the rice industry, this remains an important pillar of our agriculture sector. In 2023, we saw an increase in paddy production by 7 per cent, which translated to the production of 653,706 metric tonnes. That is a 43,111 metric tonne increase in the production in 2023, compared to 2022 production of 610,595.”
“Notably, favourable weather conditions, our variety in yield have increase from 6.2 tonnes to 6.3 tonnes per hectare. We earned approximately $45.2 billion in exports (US$210 million) in 2023, over $3 billion more than 2022. We have new markets in different parts of the world,” the Minister said.
Mention was also made of the industry’s groundbreaking achievements in the area of research, in collaboration with the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA). It was only in October that Guyana developed and launched its own strain of bio-fortified rice, making it the first country to develop this particular rice strain that naturally stores zinc.
This was accomplished through the Guyana Rice Development Board (GRDB) with the assistance of regional and international partners. The new rice strain was launched during the Agri-Investment Forum and Expo.
During the expo, Prime Minister Brigadier (Retired) Mark Phillips made it clear that this is just one manifestation of the Government’s efforts to boost food production with the “25 by 2025” goal in mind. And according to Mustapha at his press conference, work is continuing on developing new strains.
“Due to our groundbreaking research – we have a robust research team, we have been working with IICA, we are now growing zinc, the supplement, in the rice – for scientists to continue on this path and conduct more trials, we have renovated the plant breeding lab at the Burma rice research station. So, we are enhancing that lab and hoping we can do more research and bring out better varieties of this rice.”
Other accomplishments mentioned by the Minister include the construction of eight drying floors across the country and further, the Black Bush seed processing facility has restarted operations after a hiatus of several years.
According to him, this will produce almost 6000 bags of paddy, to benefit approximately 600 farmers in Black Bush Polder. He further noted that more such facilities will be constructed across the country.
Meanwhile, Minister Mustapha noted that Guyana was able to secure various new rice markets, including the West African country of Sierra Leonne. He further made it clear that 2023 would see even more effort being put into acquiring new rice markets.
Earlier this month, the Minister had visited Onverwagt in Region Five, where he had expressed optimism that the Mahaica-Mahaicony-Abary (MMA) scheme will achieve record-breaking rice production acreage in the first crop of 2024.
This ambitious goal is fuelled by significant investments and various tangible initiatives being implemented to support farmers in the area. The developmental plans, Minister Mustapha had stated, will contribute to Guyana attaining food security. To further develop agriculture in the Region, the Minister alluded to the 20,000 acres of new land that will be developed in the scheme.
In three years, farmers in the scheme have significantly benefitted from various initiatives, as they received 31,659 bags of fertiliser and 11,688 bags of seed paddy to increase their yield.