Guyana one step closer to releasing biofortified rice variety to farmers

-candidate variety showing promising results, trial plot withstood recent flooding

The Government of Guyana through the Ministry of Agriculture’s Guyana Rice Development Board (GRDB) is one step closer to introducing a new high-value rice variety to the market.

Minister Mustapha in the company of IICA Country Representative WIlmot Garmett and CARICOM Representative Shaun Baugh (left) during the harvesting exercise at Lesbeholden

Today, Agriculture Minister Zulfikar Mustapha visited the National Agriculture Research and Extension Institute (NAREI) and GRDB Research Facility at Lesbeholden, Black Bush Polder, Region Six to witness the harvesting of the second trial of the zinc-infused candidate variety rice.

The project is a collaborative initiative between the GRDB and the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA).

Minister Mustapha and IICA Country Representative WIlmot Garnett during the harvesting exercise at the Lesbeholden research facility

There are currently four one-acre plots under trial in Regions Two, Three, Five, and Six.

While speaking to members of the media during the activity, Minister Mustapha explained this candidate variety has different characteristics from other varieties cultivated in Guyana and once trials are complete and large-scale cultivation commences, farmers would be able to benefit from preferential prices.

“This is the second trial. Shortly we’ll have a candidate variety available for farmers to use extensively across the country. This candidate variety is different from what we usually plant in Guyana. Healthwise, it has a lot more zinc, which is good for persons with underlying issues. When this rice is ready for export, it will attract preferential prices,” Minister Mustapha explained.

Minister Mustapha takes a closer look at the paddy coming out of the rice thresher

The minister also said he remains optimistic that, after the next trial, the candidate variety would be given the green light for release to farmers across the country.

Noting the effects that climate change continues to have on the agriculture sector globally, Minister Mustapha disclosed that this candidate variety has a higher resistance to climatic conditions experienced in Guyana.

“This plot that we are visiting here today, withstood the recent floods. It was in the water for about three weeks. Now that the flood waters have receded, this is the result. So, it shows a lot of resilience and that it is good for the conditions faced in the country. This fits in well with our President’s agenda for improving and advancing the agri-food system in our country and the Caribbean,” Minister Mustapha added.

Agriculture Minister Zulfikar Mustapha while putting stalks of the biofortified candidate variety into the rice thresher that was donated by IICA for the project

As part of the project, IICA also donated a rice thresher to the GRDB valued at US $5000 (GY $1,000,000). 

IICA’s Country Representative, Wilmot Garnett said Guyana will be the first in the region to release a variety enriched with zinc. He also said the rice thresher that was procured to assist with the project would help speed up the harvesting process.  

“We have the rice trials looking at zinc and hopefully, as early as next year we’ll be moving to farmers in different rice-producing regions using this candidate. Based on the performance, Guyana will be the first in the region to release a rice variety with zinc. Also, we need to bear in mind the climate conditions. You will note that the seed thresher that was purchased to support this project; we know with climate change things are very different. With this machinery, you can quickly harvest and process and it also helps with quality. Remember quality starts from the field, not at the mill. The machine is also mobile because we want to ensure the farmers’ benefit,” Mr. Garnett said.

In addition to rice, the thresher can also be used to process beans and peas.

Programme Manager for Agriculture and Agro-Industrial Development within the CARICOM Secretariat in Guyana, Shaun Baugh said the programme is a clear response to CARICOM’s food security needs.

“Guyana is well suited, certainly for rice production to demonstrate to the region and definitely to the world the possibilities which exist. What we’re seeing here with this biofortified project is a response to our food security needs, a response to climate change, and a response to the demand of our consumers and our farmers.

“What we’ve seen here with the partnership between the Government of Guyana and IICA is conception becoming reality and the results that we’ve seen here are more than encouraging. It says to us as a people in the region, that when we come together, and our scientists and our innovation are put together and put to the test, then the results are tremendous. With the COVID pandemic moving from a health crisis to a food crisis, this is a response that the region has put together for this. It’s not just talk; we’re seeing action,” Mr. Baugh said.  

Back in February, Minister Mustapha visited the Burma Rice Research Station to assess the first trial of the bio-fortified candidate variety that was under cultivation.

During that visit, GRDB’s Chief Scientist, Dr. Mahendra Persaud, said the strains were part of a breeding trial and will be tested over the next three seasons.

Approximately 17 entries are being tested at the various trial locations. The GRDB is scheduled to conduct one more round of trials before identifying a strain suitable for farmers’ field trials during the second crop of 2022.