Why we must be grateful to Guyana

Carifesta delegates from Guyana take a photo on arrival at Piarco International Airport on August 15, 2019. - ANGELO MARCELLE
Carifesta delegates from Guyana take a photo on arrival at Piarco International Airport on August 15, 2019. - ANGELO MARCELLE

There was a saying when I was young that went: “No good deed goes unpunished,” I think by the author and playwright Oscar Wilde.

And I remembered the days when Trinis would get a call from some acquaintance or distant cousin from Georgetown in Guyana, telling us that their elderly grandparent was on a flight coming to Piarco without any money (they were not allowed
any foreign exchange at that time; tickets had been paid in Guyanese dollars, which were not legal currency anywhere else) and begging you to pick them up and keep them overnight because the ongoing flight to Toronto or New York was delayed.

So you did. I can’t remember anyone who refused. You would look for bewildered elderly people in Piarco, carrying red plastic bags holding their possessions, and introduce yourselves, help them knowing that if it were your parents who had come to that, someone in Guyana would help them.

That is what you did for fellow West Indians. It was what was expected if you had transport and an extra bed.

No thanks were expected. It was just what you did.

Decades have passed and society has changed into something very different.

I thought of it today when I read the various letters, e-mails and social-media comments online from citizens of Guyana resenting the incursions that Trini businesspeople are making into the Guyanese economy now that it is becoming a world target for the rapidly burgeoning energy industry

There is resentment where once there were the tremulous thanks from elderly people grateful for a good night’s sleep, breakfast and a couple of sandwiches or some roti to take with them.

It was a different time. We are not as close now.

There are so many good people in Guyana to whom the peoples of earth should be grateful as climate change, drought, floods and natural catastrophes add to the man-made ones.

Let me give you an example.

In Guyana there is a man called Mahendra Persaud. I have never met him myself, but a close friend of mine who has known him for several years describes him as a quiet, gentle and humble man.

He may be all that, but I think he just may also be the key person to save the slowly crumbling food agriculture of three quarters of the world when drought and flood have destroyed crop fields elsewhere.

Dr Persaud and his team of five have developed a strain of rice that will survive under floods of salt water for up to 15 days and more.

This is not a “genetically modified” Bayer strain. It is one grown naturally with a DNA that will shut it down when it floods and then start growing again when the water recedes. They call it a “tolerance for lodging.”

They have developed another strain that can withstand drought. They have a third strain that is “blast resistant,” and yet another, in the trial stage, that adds zinc to the rice, which will greatly alleviate zinc deficiency in people whose main food is rice. I am told that it tastes awful, but it is still at the testing stage, so hopefully that will improve.

Zinc, as most people know, even in low doses, lessens risk factors for diabetes, cardiovascular disease and possibly even covid19.

In a world facing floods and droughts and crop failures of every kind, where one giant near world monopoly, Bayer-Monsanto has so genetically modified crops that they prevent other crops, even corn (a staple diet for as much of the world’s poor, as rice is) from self-re-seeding harvest after harvest.

Under this almost total control of seed crops and therefore of world nutrition, food will become an expensive tool of political control (sort of like an agricultural Big Pharma). Even now most food crops must be planted with new seed produced by Bayer-Monsanto.

So what the Guyanese Rice Development Board (GRDB) is doing for humankind may give it a chance to survive down the road.

At present these GRDB varieties are some 70 per cent of the rice grown in Guyana. It exports to 40 countries, including Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Belgium, Holland, France, Italy, Haiti, Venezuela etc.

Agriculture is a major foreign-exchange earner for Guyana and employs almost 18 per cent of the labour force. In 2020, it contributed close to 17 per cent of its GDP. The government of Guyana sensibly regards agriculture as important for the diversification of their economy.

Senators Prof John Spence and Prof Julian Kenny argued for this diversification in TT year after year after year in the Senate until they died. All they got was lip service and a condescending verbal approval.

Despite its enormous gas and oil discoveries, the Guyanese government is working to revive sugar production and is making investments not only in rice but also in other crops like corn and soybeans.

Meanwhile, the agriculture sector in TT has declined. Its contribution to GDP has fallen from 5.2 per cent in the 1970s to an average of just under one per cent since 2010. In 1987, the agriculture sector accounted for a hefty 12 per cent of total employment in TT, which fell to just 2.8 per cent by 2020.

TT cannot feed itself. And food prices continue to go up.


"Why we must be grateful to Guyana"

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