Today was the first day of visiting farms as a part of my time here in Guyana for the Farmer-to-Farmer volunteer program.
We drove to region 6, which is far down south along the coast for a total of about 3 hours commute time in each direction. Throughout the whole drive, Guyana felt like just a very large village. People are all outside, working together, talking to each other… everything seems very grass-roots. Rather than each farmer having a full set of their own equipment, individual houses along the road had different tractor equipment (tractors, harvesters, etc.), all of which would be needed to till, disk, sow, and/or harvest the different crops in the area. We saw some large rice paddy fields, rice processing plants, a couple sugar cane fields, and some pasture with livestock. Along the roads everywhere are cannals – cannals that feed a whole network of cannals and irrigation throughout the country. They also have dams that can open after heavy rains to let the excess water into the ocean, and close when rain levels are low, to prevent salt water from getting in… Can tell that the hands of the Dutch have been here!
Most of what we saw was rather familiar. The first couple farms were mostly peppers (i.e. bell peppers), with some tomatoes, cabbage, citrus, melons, and eggplant. There were also some tropical fruit, such as Soursop and starfruit, which I currently know very little about! Another very interesting nearby plant was the abundance of neem trees, Azadirachta indica.
What’s interesting about neem trees is that we actually have several insecticides in the USA that are based on Neem, specifically neem oil (which covers and suffocates the insects) and azadiracthin; a compound extracted from neem seeds that has some repellency and growth disruption (insect growth regulator) effects.
The Farmers themselves were all very kind, welcoming, and generous. A couple of them were rather young too and Leon confirmed that more young people are getting into farming. One of them may actually be a great resource, because he knew a lot about what was wrong with the plants and could quickly recognize symptoms.
Without a doubt, the growers here face some serious yield loss. One of the growers estimated 20% of pepper yields to disease, another 60% loss of melons to a rot, and another 45% yield loss of cauliflower due to diamondback moth. Their rainy season sees very high humidity (currently 87% RH outside) and high moisture, making diseases difficult to prevent in the first place for disease-susceptible crops/cultivars. Some other crop challenges they face include some cultural practices (nutrient management), whiteflies (and subsequent diseases transmitted by them), “gandhi” (known as “stink bugs” in the US), leaf-footed bugs, thrips, spider mites (in the dry seasons), flea beetles, root-knot nematodes, and goats… yes, goats… just to name a few. The goats appear to be rather crafty – in one instance, they pushed a fence over and go to an entire plot of large pepper plants and chewed them up quite good! I guess that’ll just help fatten up the goats a bit…
I found it interesting that they call stink bugs “gandhi”, specifically because “gand” in the Persian language means “stinky”. Used in a sentence, my mother would say something like “Erfan, put on some deodorant, you smell like gand!” during my teenage years (FYI. I wear deodorant much more regularly now…). I wonder if gandhi in an Indian language (one of the main cultures in Guyana) means “stinky” (for stinkbug) and the Persian language shares the same root.
The Soursop also had an interesting insect pest – a borer that goes straight for the seeds! After some quick research and based on the description of the damage, the culprit appears to be a wasp (commonly referred to as the Soursop wasp) that lays eggs into the seeds with a long ovipositor (organ used to lay eggs) when the fruit is small. When the fruit is larger, the larvae emerge from the seeds and exit out of the fruit, causing these large holes on the outside of the fruit. This provides an opportunity for other insects and diseases to also infiltrate the fruit, increasing the problem, and ruins the seeds for future plantings.
The peppers faced a range of issues. They appear to be affected by a bacterial leaf spot, possibly anthracnose, feeding damage from stink bugs, and root-knot nematodes. Root-knot nematodes can be a challenge to manage, even in the US. They resort to some of the harsh (Danger-level) nematicides, such as Vydate, and even then, appear to have lots of nematodes. With the way the water constantly moves around the land here, nematode management may prove challenging. With all of the pesticides they spray, people may be concerned how it affects the surrounding environment – but the abundance of frogs, dragonflies, and ludicrous quantity of mosquitoes suggests that the ‘environment’ may be doing reasonably well. Below are several images of some of the types of plants disease and insect damage that we saw today. If you see anything that you definitely recognize, please feel free to provide your insight!
Lastly, I wanted to mention the melons. Seen above is a melon that has a spot starting to form on it that eventually expands and takes over the whole fruit; in my quick search, I found either bacterial fruit blotch or bacterial rind necrosis as the possible culprits. The farmer here described this disease as a “terrible tragedy” with the melons right now, with around 60% of yields lost to this problem. What makes it worse – it only appears after the fruit is just about to ripen, meaning that the plant and fruit has taken the space, water, and nutrients before it completely rots.
In the next few days I will be visiting some more farmers to see whether they face any additional unique challenges. Once I have consolidated all of the photos and information on their crop challenges, I can break it down by region and start forming workshop materials to hopefully provide practical solutions to at least some of their crop yield losses. I have also been taking notes and photographing their pesticides application practices and will consolidate that in a separate post later in the week – information that will be vital to understand current management practices and how they can be improved. Spoiler: farms here may benefit from chemical rotation to prevent promotion of pesticide-resistant pests.