farmers

For farmers in Guyana, climate change means loss of funds

As the demand for food increases and the ability to supply decreases, food prices will continue to impact consumers all over Guyana.
As the demand for food increases and the ability to supply decreases, food prices will continue to impact consumers all over Guyana.

“They’re going to see much more rise in the price of food in Guyana, coming next year,” says Mr Devon Mc Kenzie, a farmer with farmlands in Good Success and Friendship.

Market prices for crops and other food items have been steadily increasing, many blame it on the effects of the pandemic, and many more contribute these exaggerated prices to the high demand within the oil and gas sector. And although they are not wrong, sometimes people forget to add the effects of climate change to that list.

Extreme and unpredictable weather conditions continue to plague many countries all over the world. However, SIDs (Small Islands States) like Guyana are the first to feel its effects.

Ryan Assiu, a sustainable development and climate change specialist and consultant, mentioned two types of effects we can see from climate change on agriculture and our ecosystem.

Direct effects such as extreme rainfall, drought and temperature changes which can cause heat stress on crops and indirect effects which can cause changes in habitable areas of pests and insects, making them more likely to migrate to farmlands and threaten agriculture and plants.

As the demand for food increases and the ability to supply decreases, food prices will continue to impact consumers all over Guyana, glimpses of this can be seen every time consumers visit the market and see the prices of food items at all-time highs.

Mr. Mc Kenzie believes that the increase in prices on the Guyana Market is due to multiple factors. “Everything is at an all-time high,” he says “fertilizer, oil and gas on the market, drugs and even labor.”

“Farmers cannot afford to plant on their farm, and for the few crops that will be coming, prices will be high.”

He stresses a major problem for farmers on the East Bank when dealing with climate change, and that is getting assistance from the government with proper drainage. Mr. Mc Kenzie stresses that when there is heavy rain, without proper drainage the water is unable to escape through the canal. Indicating that although drains are present, the canals are not secure or safe enough to handle heavy rainfall.

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Mr. Mc Kenzie also voiced Ryan Assiu concerns about pests and insects migrating to farmlands during heavy rainfalls and flooding.  Declaring that these insects are a constant threat for himself and many other farmers.

When these crops are destroyed, there is less supply and always more demand, another reason why consumers may see increases in crops at the market.

Mr. Colin Timmerman, a lecturer and a farm manager at the Guyana School for Agriculture (GSA) is seeing similar effects of climate change as his ability to farm certain crops are dawned as the unpredictable weather patterns continue.

As a farm manager he is responsible for the development and management of the farm, however due to the excessive rainfall, many crops which were supposed to be planted during this year, are unfortunately pushed towards next year.

He also highlighted a major problem in Guyana, hinting at the lack of agriculture zoning which can help in mitigating the issues of Climate Change.

“In Guyana to a larger extent farming is done haphazardly, a farmer gets a piece of land, he just farms, and so the area might not be the best area for farming, they are just doing it, so climate change has made that more difficult, because with the increase of flooding his land is low and he has to build it up.”

He mentioned that there are some low line areas that can also be prone to sea water intrusion, which then can harm crops and stop them from growing.

Although climate change is surely affecting farmers, farming and agriculture are also contributing to climate change.

According to a report done by the Intergovernmental Panel on climate change, about 30% of global emissions which lead to climate change are traceable to agricultural activities, including pesticide use.

And according to Carbonbrief.org the global production of fertilizers is responsible for around 1.4% of annual CO2 emissions, and declaring that fertilizer use is a major contributor of non-CO2 greenhouse gas emissions as well.

Mr Timmerman believes that like soil erosion, the use of fertilizers and pesticides cannot be completely stopped but it can be controlled.

“From time-to-time farmers will have to use some form of pesticide, but the issue is how much, is it being done in a sustainable manner, or is it being monitored by the Pesticide Board or maybe NAREI.”

“I know the Pesticide Board has the regulations, but the question is do they have the capabilities to monitor farmers, in my opinion they don’t.”

He stresses the need for regulations and laws to be enforced, insisting that there need to be penalties or fines for farmers who disregard these regulations.

The head of the Coastal Extension Unit Mr. Eon Sampson shared what NAREI (National Agricultural Research and Extension Institute) is currently doing to intervene in the fight against climate change. Highlighting that NAREI is helping by subsidizing the cost for import supply with items such as fertilizer and pesticides.

Evidently the issues of climate change have major effects on farmers, agriculture cultivation and the current market price. What then can farmers and locals do to stay resilient, mitigate and adapt to these ongoing changes in our climate?

“Every country would have their strategy, but generally we need to move the agriculture sector to what we believe as climate smart agriculture,” Ryan Assiu stresses. “This means Agriculture which is going to be resilient to climate change but also mitigate the drivers of climate change.”

Ryan mentions a list of alternative models to our traditional agriculture strategies, which many farmers can utilize.

farmers

Agri Forestry or Permaculture is the growth of agricultural ecosystems in a self-sufficient and sustainable way, typically, this type of system will stabilize soil, provide shade and protection from excessive rainfall.

Another way is keeping the traditional model, however, adopting and adapting to a particular farmer needs or the hazards they face, for instance setting up drip irrigation systems or rain water harvesting systems to protect and store water.

There are also more cutting-edge techniques which include Hydroponics Systems, Container Farming, Vertical Greenhouses which are typically temperature controlled.

Mr. Sampson also mentions zoning farmland is something that the ministry is currently undertaking and which is a collaborative effort between all sister agencies like NAREI, and GLDA (Guyana Livestock Development Authority). Indicating that keen attention will be paid to cash crop and cattle.

Climate smart agriculture is the direction that NAREI is moving towards. The department is currently trying to integrate this new measure in all of the farming communities called shade house cultivation.

In areas which are prone to drought, Drip Irrigation systems are being used and in the open fields Mr Sampson says they encourage farmers to use raised beds.

Mr. McKenzie on the other hand is also using mitigation, resilience and adaptation strategies to help fight climate change, announcing his use of shading houses on his farms and the production of a number of wells along his farmlands to store water in cases of droughts and shortages.

He encourages Guyanese to start kitchen gardens around their homes, because prices of crops and other food items are only going to increase.

He also advises Guyanese to pay keen attention to the crops which they buy, proclaiming that some farmers overuse drugs to help grow these produce quickly, and the drugs remain in the crops which can affect our health.


This story was published with the support of Climate Tracker and The Cropper Foundation’s Caribbean Citizen Climate Journalism Fellowship

Monica Hugh
Monica is an expectant graduate of the University of Guyana, majoring in communication studies. She has a deep passion for photography, photojournalism, storytelling, and travel. In my spare time, I enjoy reading, watching movies, learning about different cultures, and going for a run.