From June 16th till the 30th, I was in Guyana as a part of a two-week volunteer project through US AID Farmer-to-Farmer program, administered through Partners of the Americas. The whole first week was spent visiting farmers to learn about their pest challenges and pest management materials that can be sourced locally. You can read more about those visits in the four separate posts below:
- Day 1: Guyana Farm Visits
- Day 2: Coconuts and Chives
- Day 3: Holy Fruits Batman!
- Day 4: Permaculture in Georgetown
During the last week, I conducted a series of workshops/trainings to help identify some of the key pests the farmers were facing and how to manage them; whether preventatively, physically, or even with the responsible use of pesticides.
In the four posts I wrote after visiting the farms, I identify some of the key crop challenges. On some farms, we found: Fifty percent of young coconut trees lost to rhinoceros beetle, 60% loss of watermelons to rind necrosis, 100% of guava fruit lost to guava fruit fly, most of the soursop fruit containing soursop seed borer damage, tomato leaf curl virus vectored by whiteflies, bacterial leaf spot on peppers, and leafminers on shallots, just to name a few. I spent the better part of my first weekend in Guyana learning more about these particular pests, learning about locally available pesticides (and prices), and created some presentations on managing some of the identified challenges. If you’re interested, I have posted the presentations in PDF format and related resources for convenience: Farmer-to-Farmer: Guyana 2019 Resources
The setting of the trainings were, of course, rather different than what I am accustomed to in the US. In the US, we are indoors with air conditioning, have control of lighting & the environment in general, have reliable electricity, and breakfast consists of donuts and sweet tea. I was prepared to expect none of the above (I know… even the sweet tea!), since some of the locations we visited did not even have electricity. For our very first training, we used a gas-powered generator – and other than it being a bit loud (the generator) and a bit sweaty, it went rather smooth.
I feel inclined to mention that the generator ran out of gas about 3/4th of the way through, resulting in the projector spontaneously shutting off, but that didn’t slow us down too much. I talk a lot with my hands and can pretty convincing act like many of the insects that I’m describing.
*Be the aphid… be the aphid…*
Of course all of the farmer groups were incredibly attentive, but I certainly learned a lesson for next time. In my presentations, I was trying to provide as many resource and information as I could, relevant to their production. Sometimes that information would, for example, be a few different insecticides that they could rotate through, in order to minimize insecticide resistance. However, I noticed very quickly that no one was taking any notes. For some, it was because they were illiterate or very low level of literacy – of course they aren’t going to take notes! For others, I think a part of it is that they just never learned or thought to take notes. Only one group (The permaculture group) took notes throughout the presentation and asked for handouts/PDFs, likely due to the fact that they are all working professions in various fields that take up backyard farming as a hobby. Next time I do such a training program, I’ll have to consider methods of driving specific messages home, whether it be with physical gestures/actions, demonstrations, or repetition – all ways to help them remember the material, rather than relying on them taking notes.
I had a few other “firsts” – I have never had a situation in which my projector screen starts blowing away in the wind. Nor have I ever had to speak over goats or pigs right next to me while presenting. I would imagine that our livestock specialists have faced similar situations to that – but a bit unique for an entomologist.
One Last Farm Tour
After one of our trainings, one of the farmers (California Youth Group) was kind enough to show us more of their farm. This was the same farm we visited last week and ate all kinds of incredible fruit! Well, turns out, they have more and more plots of land, hidden behind creeks and more bush.
We had a blast tasting different fruit right off the tree (passion fruit and some species of citrus), as well as learning more about native plants, irrigation/drainage, and the opportunities for future Ag Tourism in the area.
The Last Leg
On my last official ‘working’ day in Guyana, I provided a workshop for the permaculture group. My presentation for them was quite different from the others for two reasons; (1) they are more interested in creating habitats to naturally suppress pests and some yield loss is tolerated, and (2) insect/disease identification needed strengthening (at least, from my experience visiting them the previous week). What’s surprising was that, although farming is just a hobby for this group, they are incredibly enthusiastic and delighted to learn more. I hope that their passion for farming leads them to seek future opportunities to help local farmers.
One of the things I taught this group was how to identify beneficial insects from pests, using lacewing eggs as one example. We have lacewing insects in the USA as well – a small green “fly” that lays eggs on single threads. The young (larvae) emerge from those eggs and look for soft-bodied insects to feed on. To the unacquainted eye, lacewing eggs can look like some type of fungus or mold and treated as such, but in fact, should be left alone to emerge and eat all of the bad bugs. It was particularly rewarding when the local F2F coordinator shared with me the next day a message that a member of the permaculture group had sent in a WhatsApp message, containing a great image of some lacewing eggs and the message “I was able to identify the lacewing eggs in the pic… learning is taking over”. Moments like these are incredibly rewarding – to know that the information you were trying to relay was assimilated and already being used by those in attendance!
The two weeks in Guyana were not only a great personal experience, but also a great opportunity professionally. I met many kind, generous, and hardworking souls, but also learned about some pests and diseases that are currently rare in Texas, but are important to recognize to prevent future outbreaks. They also have certain pests that we do not have yet – so being able to learn about them in Guyana will help any future research/work we need to do in Texas if they ever get here.