Trial zinc biofortified rice variety can generate significant income –Minister Mustapha

Minister of Agriculture, Hon. Zulfikar Mustapha on Wednesday visited the Burma Rice Research Station in Region Five, to witness the harvesting process of a quantity of the zinc candidate biofortified rice variety.

The variety, which has been biofortified with zinc, is a partnership initiative between the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the Guyana Rice Development Board (GRDB).

GRDB’s Chief Scientist, Dr. Mahendra Persaud and Minister of Agriculture, Hon. Zulfikar Mustapha examine the grains.

This massive collaboration comes at a time when the PPP/C Government is making massive investments to double rice production over the next five years. 

The ongoing project aims to curb hunger and mitigate nutrient deficiencies in the Americas as a component of the Council for Trade and Economic Development approved project for production, adoption and consumption of biofortified crops as part of a strategy to address non-communicable diseases in CARICOM.

Minister Mustapha is optimistic that the yield which is being tested, would eventually become a successful rice variety for the nation and would be an additional component to the Government’s goal to realise Guyana’s agriculture potential in the Region.

Minister of Agriculture, Hon. Zulfikar Mustapha, Permanent Secretary, Ms. Delma Nedd and Mr. Wilmot Garnett of ICCA participate in the harvesting process.

“As long as we can develop it, as long as we can produce a variety for farmers in our country, this has real benefits, both economic and health. It has zinc in it. We are growing the zinc now in the fields, rather than to put it artificially into the produce. So, this will help a lot of people because right now with the pandemic, we are being advised by the health specialist to use zinc.”

The Minister said once the testing trial is completed, and the variety has been approved for release to other countries, Guyana would be able to have preferential prices for the produce.

“It is good for us. I have confidence in [GRDB Chief Scientist] Dr. Mahendra Persaud and his team to develop this into a variety where we can have farmers right across the country start planting and make it one that we can export,” he added.

Meanwhile, Dr. Persaud told DPI that the GRDB has been observing the variety’s performance for some time.

Manual harvesting of the trial zinc biofortified rice variety

“We have seen these line perform at the breathing stage over the past five years and the yield and the pest and diseases and milling and cooking qualities and all those paramotors have been looked at, and so we can have the best possible strains for the farmers,” he said.

Some 4,650 farmers countrywide and another 50,000 in CARICOM are expected to benefit from this project.

The IICA has said “a study to understand the possible effects of zinc biofortification on multiple risk factors for type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease showed that low-dose zinc supplementation, as in consuming zinc biofortified rice, significantly improved specific risk factors for type 2 diabetes (fasting blood glucose and insulin resistance), compared with placebo. This effect was greater than for high-dose supplementation (vitamin tablets) for both outcomes.”

The agency also said for cardiovascular disease risk factors, low-dose zinc supplementation also had a significant positive effect, lowering triglycerides, total cholesterol, and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol. The magnitude of the effect was again greater with low-dose supplementation than high-dosage as zinc biofortified foods have been found to have had an impact on addressing non-communicable diseases.