Guyana’s farming future in the climate crisis: much can be done

In our second of a two-part series on the challenges facing farmers in Guyana, we hear more about the challenges being faced and the concrete actions and recommendations that the Alliance and Guyanese partners can take. Read part one here.

Unadai Narine, a vegetable farmer whose land lies close to Guyana’s Caribbean coast, has long depended upon her fields for income and sustenance. But intensifying cycles of drought and torrential rain have made Narine’s land less dependable. Flooding recently destroyed about 100 valuable eggplants on her land.

Narine is not alone. Farmers across once-dependable productive lands of Guyana’s Region 9 are bearing the brunt of a climate crisis that is already unfolding in the small South American nation.

The Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT, in close collaboration with Guyanese farmers, officials and experts, published this July Climate-Smart Agriculture Investment Portfolios (CSAIPs) for the nation of 750,000 people where agriculture is a major part of the economy.

The research was funded by the Caribbean Development Bank. It describes the extent of the problems faced by farmers, outlines a series of best-bet investments and strategies that can help producers respond to the climate crisis, and points to steps that other Caribbean nations can take to address similar challenges.

In this second blog on Guyana’s CSAIPs, we explain additional findings, share experiences from partners, and outline a specific series of actions that stakeholders may wish to consider for helping vulnerable farmers in the country.

University of Guyana student & professor contributions

The CSAIPs involved many students and professors at the University of Guyana, specializing in a wide range of disciplines including earth sciences, gender studies, Amerindian research, forests and agriculture. Their work was key to involving local communities and broadening the understanding of how applied science can contribute to improving agriculture in the country.

Judith Rosales, the biology professor and wetlands specialist who coordinated the university’s participation, said what stood out about the project was how it took into consideration local communities and their different landscapes, their interactions with natural resources and learning how farmers are already adapting to climate change. Crucially, they learned how different people are taking different approaches to farming and adaptation, which will help tailor responses to local circumstances.

“For agricultural interventions to work in Guyana it is critical to understand the many different ways that farmers and fishermen work and how they do these things differently,” said Rosales. “For instance, indigenous women take a different approach for raising crops than, for example, Creole men do … Gender and social inclusion are of great significance for the successful transformation to climate resilience farming in Guyana.”

Amerindian inclusion

Guyana is a country of many ethnicities and includes numerous indigenous communities. The CSAIPs were developed with their participation with the coordination of the University of Guyana’s Louisa Daggers.

“In our attempt to build resilience against climate change, it's important to take into consideration indigenous traditional knowledge, especially as we build adaptive responses in the agricultural sector,” said Daggers, who is a researcher at the university’s Amerindian Unit. “Traditional knowledge fuels indigenous communities and how they practice agriculture. They depend on this knowledge for land preparation for harvesting and the selection of crop in the decision making.”

Indigenous cultural subsistence strategies are instrumental in the survival of their communities and the provision for food, said Daggers, providing researchers with considerable knowledge regarding how to build resilient food production systems.

“[Indigenous] women are usually the backbone in the agricultural sector,” Daggers said. “Take, for example, the role of women in farming. With climate change, now [they require] additional preparation, [an] extended period of time being spent at the farm, less time being spent at home with children. So it creates an environment where there's a lot more stress on women within indigenous communities. However, it's important for us to recognize that they're adapting pretty well in some communities.”

Crop modeling for critical crops

Satesh Nanlall, a meteorologist attached to the Ministry of Agriculture’s Hydrometeorological Service, was a key member of the CSAIPs project crop modeling for future climate scenarios.

Nanlall’s work focused on scenarios for up to the year 2050 on seven key vegetable crops in Guyana: rice, cassava, sweet potatoes, bell and hot peppers, pineapple and watermelon.

“The modeling was done to compare past and future yields of crops grown in Guyana, and the impact of climate change could have on our agriculture in this country,” Nanlall said. “This has great potential to pave the way for plans and techniques that are needed to mitigate the potential negative impacts of climate change.”

“We found that without quick adaptation future production of these crops could diminish,” he added.

Nanlall called his experience working on the project “simply exceptional.”

“The brilliant minds of the scientists we work with not only enhanced my knowledge in the field of agro-climatology, but also the passionate, extraordinary work that has been done at [the Alliance invigorated me to pursue new research on these issues here in Guyana,” Nanlall said. “It should be our shared priority to quickly deploy new ways to address the challenges of climate change and to ensure a resilient, healthy, economically successful future for Guyana's agriculture sector and the country as a whole.”

Satesh was one of two researchers from Guyana that participated in a staff exchange program between the Alliance and the Ministry of Agriculture of Guyana. They visited the Alliance campus in Colombia for three months. Dina Khadija Benn, a Geospatial Analyst from the Department of Geography at the Faculty of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Guyana, was the second researcher to visit the Alliance in Colombia and work on spatial crop modeling.

Recommendations moving forward

The path forward for Guyana’s farmers is an easy one but the CSAIPs lay out an attainable set of recommendations for investment that have considerable potential to improve resilience to climate change.

As outlined by the Alliance’s Carolina Navarette, fostering a policy environment for the implementation of climate-smart agricultural investment includes eight key policy recommendations. These include finding culturally appropriate technology bundles to increase agrobiodiversity, nutritional security and sustainability. There is also a need for value chain development for high-value crops; and public investment in infrastructure such as roads, community seed banks, irrigation, water pumps and water-efficient technologies. Decentralization of agriculture extension services and the integration of digital technologies are also recommended.

“Other key conditions such as security of land tenure for both women and men and short-term livelihood options, such as high-value cash crops, can help establish an enabling environment and solid ground for farmers to gradually transition to a more competitive, equitable and resilient agriculture,” Navarrete said.

“We would like to thank the Government of Guyana, the University of Guyana, and all the local stakeholders that supported the implementation of this project,” Navarrete said. “We would also like to thank the Caribbean Development Bank for funding the project.”