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World Food Day: Guyana pushing for sustainable water usage

Agriculture accounts for some 72 per cent of global freshwater withdrawals, and amid Guyana’s mission to achieve food security by ramping up its agricultural production, the need for sustainable water usage is now more important than ever.

This point was emphasised on Monday by Agriculture Minister Zulfikar Mustapha during an event hosted by the Agriculture Ministry and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in observance of World Food Day, which is being celebrated under the theme “Water is Life; Water is Food. Leave no one Behind.”

Agriculture Minister Zulfikar Mustapha

Recognising that there is a vital connection between water, food security and sustainable agriculture, Mustapha reminded that freshwater is not infinite and as such, requires sustainable management. He explained that Guyana has been embarking on a number of initiatives aimed at sustainable water use and management in the agriculture sector.

“In light of the reduced rainfall and possibility of water scarcity, the Ministry of Agriculture has been proactive in dealing with the potential challenges for agriculture and our water resources. The Ministry has undertaken several initiatives to promote sustainable water use and management for agriculture. These initiatives aim to improve irrigation practices and water efficiency and ensure the long-term viability of the agriculture sector,” the Agriculture Minister outlined.

Drip irrigation

“We’re trying to conserve water but at the same time, make agriculture more simple and more modern…,” Mustapha further expressed as he highlighted efforts to promote the drip irrigation system in local agricultural practices. “…these are systems that reduce water wastage by delivering water directly to the root of the crops,” he explained.

Currently in Guyana, this practice is most popularly being employed in shade houses through the National Agricultural Research and Extension Institute (NAREI). According to the FAO, drip irrigation involves dripping water onto the soil at very low rates (2-20 litres/hour) from a system of small diameter plastic pipes fitted with outlets called emitters or drippers. Water is applied close to plants so that only part of the soil in which the roots grow is wetted, unlike surface and sprinkler irrigation, which involves wetting the whole soil profile.

“Drip irrigation is most suitable for row crops (vegetables, soft fruit), tree and vine crops where one or more emitters can be provided for each plant. Generally, only high value crops are considered because of the high capital costs of installing a drip system,” the FAO has also outlined.

Massive projects

Another initiative embarked upon by the Ministry of Agriculture to promote sustainable water use and management is encouraging rainfall harvesting among farmers. “…to capture and store rainfall water for agriculture purposes,” Mustapha explained. Meanwhile, revealing that for the year so far, the Government has invested some $26 billion in upgrading the drainage and irrigation systems across the country, Mustapha said there are more massive projects in the pipeline, all aimed at improving drainage and irrigation countrywide.

“Pump stations alone, we got close to about twelve pump stations are being built or were built already; we have big canals, large canals going up; we have sluices going up; and other infrastructures,” he explained.

“For example, in the Pomeroon alone, we’ve expended close to $500 million in doing block drainage for the farmers in the Pomeroon so these are massive D&I projects that we are doing…places like Black Bush Polder, Canals Polder, we did a conservancy which Region 10 never had before…so these are massive D&I projects that I’m talking about.”

Moreover, he said the Government is working on improving its hydrological observational network to provide data to support services required for sound water management. Mustapha emphasised that the Government will continue to work with its various developmental partners in achieving its goals regarding sustainable water use and management.

Some of these partners include the FAO, the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB), the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the World Bank. But according to Mustapha, the responsibility of sustainable water usage rests with everyone.

“All of us have that responsibility, we have to make that contribution in ensuring that we safeguard this precious resource,” he said.

“Guyana’s journey towards sustainable agriculture is closely intertwined with our commitment to preserving our environment. Our rivers and our fertile lands are not just resources, but are treasures that underpin our agricultural and food system. While fostering sustainable access to water resources has been addressed in our national policies, every individual also has the responsibility to practicing good management of our water resources in our everyday lives.” (G11)

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