Mixed farming systems on small farms in the upper Berbice River District, Guyana


Material Information

Mixed farming systems on small farms in the upper Berbice River District, Guyana
Physical Description:
12 leaves : ; 28 cm.
Massiah, W. C
Fletcher, R. E
Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute
Publication Date:


Subjects / Keywords:
Agricultural systems -- Guyana -- Berbice River Valley   ( lcsh )
Farms, Small -- Guyana -- Berbice River Valley   ( lcsh )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )
Spatial Coverage:


Statement of Responsibility:
W.C. Massiah and R.E. Fletcher.
General Note:
"Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute, Guyana."

Record Information

Source Institution:
University of Florida
Rights Management:
All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
oclc - 663448901
lcc - S475.G953 B47 1980z
System ID:

Full Text


W. C. Massiah and R. E. Fletcher

Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute

Guy ana


The system of shifting cultivation (slash and burn) is the
traditional practice of farmers in the upper Berbice River
district. Under this system, land is cleared and utilized
for two or three crop seasons (maize followed by sweet pota-
to or other food crops and then allowed to revert to
"bush"). A small portion of such land is sometimes cropped
continuously with peanut (Arachis hypogeae), cow pea (Vigna
sp.), plantain and banana (Musa sp.), eddo and cocoyam
(Colocasia sp.), and other food crops.

Livestock does not play a significant role in the farming
system. Cattle are the most prevalent type of livestock in
the area and there is -.some improved pasture Animals are
kept primarily as an investment and to supply milk for the
farm family. Occasional sales of live animals are made to
butchers who travel upriver periodically by riverboat.

About 30% of the farmers surveyed reared swine, while about
89% reared poultry mainly for home consumption and occa-
sional sales to neighbors of meat and eggs.
There is very little conscious effort on the part of farmers
at integration of the major crop enterprises with the live-
stock systems.


Guyana is located on the northeastern Atlantic coast of
South America at 40N and 590WJ and has a land area of approx-
imately 212,000 sq. kilometers. The riverain farming area
of the Berbice River consists of a narrow belt (10-15 km
wide) of heavily forested river levee soils bordering the
river banks and extending more than 150 km upriver. The
area is virtually undeveloped infrastructurally and river
transport is the major means of communication. Farmers make
short trips in canoes or corials while the Government
steamer provides a passenger cargo service once per week.
Home stead s are conveniently located in small clearings on
the river banks. The farms are at varying distances from
homesteads and in some instances the farmer may have to walk
or paddle a canoe up to 10 km to get to and from his farm.


Guyana' s climate generally is characterized by a bimodal
rainfall pattern with an average annual precipitation of
between 2000 and 2500 mm. In the case-study area the main
rainy season runs from April to July and there is a shorter,
more moderate we t season from November through January.
Table I gives the mean monthly rainfall distribution for the
ten-year period 1971-1980 for the Ebini Research Station,

which is approximately representative of the rainfall pat-
tern insthe riverain ecozone.

Mean maximum and minimum temperatures are 340 and 190 Cel-
sius, respectively, with an average of 260C. Cooler periods
with lower night temperatures occur during the months Novem-
ber to March.

The elevation of the general area is 5 to 10 meters above
sea level with a flat topography punctuated by low swampy
areas, especially in the vicinity of creeks.

The soils of the survey region are predominantly riverain
deposits of silty clays which are light to moderate in tex-
ture and exhibit some impeded drainage. Fertility levels are
good on virgin l and taken out of forest or bush, with a
marked decline in productivity after three seasons of crop-
ping. Table 2 gives soil analytic data representative of
the major soil type of the area.


The average size of the farm family is 7.4. Fifty percent
of the household is between the ages of 16 ahd 60 while 34%
is less than 11 years (see Table 3).

The average age of the head of household is 50 years with an
average farming experience of 23 years. Fifty-nine percent
of those surveyed had adequate primary education. Opportun-
ities for secondary education are not as available and chil-
dren in the 11 to 16 age group normally leave the district
for secondary education in one of the more populated cen-
ters. The majority of the farmers in the subdistrict are
full-time operators with the land as their sole means of
earning a living. Some residents also are involved in off-
farm economic activity, especially logging and mining

Within the households, a small percentage (15%) of women are
involved in managing and decision making on the farm. Women
and older children carry the responsibility for routine on-
farm activity while the male head of the household handles
the heavier infrastructural work (land clearing, drainage)
(see Table 4).

Small farm cash income is generally small, seasonal and
difficult to ascertain. An estimate of annual average farm
income using average acreages and average yields for the
district can be made as follows:

Table It monthly Pa nfal _s atis ics -0 year nea

Month Jan Feb March April May June July Aug. Sept. Oct. Nov. Nov.

Mean 192.8 90.9 129.6 149.9 275.9 291.4 273.9 231.4 100.6 96J 116.9 167.7

Teble 2: Soi nng vti d na De V ld Sitv C gg

Sampling pH Exch Bases (meq/100 gm) PBS Extr

0-15 4.6 0.6 1.2 0.6 0.2 2.9 80 7.0

15-30 4.6 0.9 0.7 0.5 0.1 2.1 59 5.0

Sub-district Mean Age and sex of household (2)
Family size 11 11-15 16 60 60
m f m f

Kimbia 5.5 40 13 24 24 -

Ebini 5.1 .i14 16 42 25 -3
St. Lust 11.0 37 16 24 22 1-

Area mean 7.4 30 15 30 24 0.3 1

* Derived from CARDI small farm systems baseline survey report 1981

Crop (maize) 2 ha x 1000 kg/ha @ $0.594/ha = G$1,188.00
Sweet potato 0.1 ha x 12,000 kg/ha @ .98/ha = 1,176.00
Peanut -0.1 ha x 1,000 kg/ha @ ll.00/ha = 1,100.00
Plantain, bananas and other food crops = 800.00
Off farm activity (April-July logging etc.) = 1,500.00

Another estimate of additional income, if the farmer rears
cattle and sells at least one animal per year, can be made.
Thi's could bring him between GS1,200 (1 Guyana dollar = US
0.33 cents) to $2,000 depending upon the size of the animal
and the price offered by the butcher.

Production costs for most enterprises is minimal since
fertilizers and other inputs are either not used or used in
insignificant quantities. Labor come s pr imar ily from the
family unit with very little hiring of casual labor. The
tr ad it ional system of ma triman or cooperative work is
actively practiced during peak farm operations and reduces
the need for hiring casual labor.


The traditional farming system is one of shifting cultiva-
tion (slash and burn). Farmers may return to abandoned land
10 to 15 years later, by which time high bush would have
been regenerated.

Farmers cultivate only small portions of land in any one
season, this being primarily attributed to the lack of farm
mechanization and other ancillary services. Table 5 gives
an indication of farm size for three major subdistricts in
the area.

Land tenure in most cases is freehold; however, in several
instances of freehold, tenure lands were encumbered by
family arrangements State lands are also farmed under
leasehold arrangements (usually 25 years) with rental of
G$1.25 2.50/ha.

Farm homesteads are conveniently located in small clearings
on the banks of the Berbice River which has ~an average
width of 400 600 meters in that vicinity. The river is the
major means of communication by small1 craft, either oar-
propelled or by means of small outboard engines. The
Government steamer which travels upriver once per week,
could be considered the 'l1i fel1i ne of the c omm un ity It
transports passengers and cargo, including basic food
commodities and farmers' produce, to market.

Homes are built typically of wood, in some cases hewn and
rough dritssed from the surrounding forest. Houses are
raised off the ground on stilts and the area below the house
invariably serves as an operation and storage area for farm
produce. Use is made of indigenous material in house build-
ing, e.g., forest lumber for walls and posts and thatch for

The farmer operates on a very narrow capital base. There is
little farm mechanization and ownership of tractors is
rare Hand tools and equ ipme nt are used for most field
operations. The most valuable piece of farm equipment is
usually a knapsack sprayer which is used for pest and weed
control. Farm produce is moved from farm to homestead to
marketing point (river boat) by hand and small canoes. This
limits the volume of produce that the farmer is capable of
handling in a given time period.


The farming system practiced in this area is biased toward
crops with minor emphasis on livestock. Maize is the major
crop and is usually planted for two seasons immediately
after land clearing. All farmers in the survey group grow
maize. Intercropping of maize with plantain, banana,
cassava, and yam is common practice. On smaller plots of
land that the farmer wants to crop continuously, sweet
potato, cowpea, peanut and vegetables are grown. Table 6
gives an indication of the cropping activities of the far-
mers surveyed.

The traditional cropping system starts with forest or high
bush that is cleared and burned in situ. The area involved
per farm family ranges from 0.5 to 2 ha. Maize is planted by
the dibble method between stumps and large logs. Rice may
be broadcast at the same time as a diversion for birds which
dig the maize seed up. Within the same season plantain or
banana suckers may be intercropped. Fruit trees, especially
citrus, may also be planted, depending on availability of
planting material.

La nd may be retained in maize for an add i tional season ,
after which it is either allowed to go to fallow or main-
tained (weeded) for the benefit of the intercrops. If land
is conveniently located and appears superior, the farmer
will select such a plot to be developed further removal of
logs and stumps for planting of sweet potato, cowpea, pea-
nut, and vegetables on a continuous rotational basis.

Planting of permanent crops is restricted to land area
around the homestead. Only six of the 27 farmers within the
survey group had any cattle (considered the most valuable of
the livestock component). The number of head per farm aver-

Table 4: noc. wrars of f.:rr.irer: education cev and'

Sub- No. of Age Head of House- Years of School- Sex Farming
district farms hold farmrir.a inc- status
31-;0 415 60 15 15-35 30 4-7 7 H F Full Part

Kimbia 10 2 6 2 2 7 1 2 8 10 9 1
Ebini 7 -6 1 1 3 3 7 6 1 2 5
St. Lust 10 2 7 1 2 6 2 2 8 7 3 4 6

Derived fro- small farm systems Baseline survey report
Guyana 1981.

Sub-district No. of Farm size (ha)

Kim~bia 10 8.2 0.4 13.6
Ebini 10 7.2 2.2 13.6
St. Lust 7 4.5 4.5 5.0

Table 6: Cra ac~ es andncu=o n t~~to

Crop planted(ha) Avr. yield Utilization 1
avr.per kg/ha Market Family Animal Seed

Maize 2,0 800 75 5 18 2

Sweet potato 0.5 13500 80 15 5
Plantain 0.3 20000 80 15 S-
Peanut 0.2 1200 90 2 -8

Rice 0.4 n~a -30 65 5

Cowpea 0.3 675 95 5-
Vegetables 0.1 n.a 50 40 10

pther Food 0.4 10000 75 20 5
Pasture 2.5 n.a 100

Type KIZ:GIA E212:: S". LUS:
% of~ :umioers 6 of Numer OE of huers

Cattle 4 10 15 33

Swine 3 22

Poultry 33 7238 6 25 136

aged eight. Swine were raised on eight farms in the Ebini
subdistricts only and herds were small. Poultry are kept on
the majority of farms as a backyard enterprise with creole
breeds being prevalent (Table 7).

Improved pasture for dual-purpose cattle occupies ionly a
small. pr~Okpor~tjIo of cultivated land (15%). The nita inps;'.- ce
grasss cunlttiva~tted is a nanrdy frsinigenouas species~ i((Ise~tum -;?'I!"
tfiaherese) or RuceUntui; howeverc~H lthe avaidalablej .aomp~rovee ;:-:.5-
tulre~ s inadeqruatel~jL; and~ annimacil~s, ~are tethebredi and llamd t
g ra ze idw ee ntv oaeis~ ;BOavaif j~labeO~ 00i ao

p.i Aer LIBE m~k~~~~~:.ianage~mxemt pr o amj,~~t ar.j~ e cnext ae adli t
su pple menr tar 3 ?E~edling; is~f doe Famenrs may purxachase sma~ll
quantities oft- wheiat midcdllingts and ms~iseralB sblocks whens arv~ai-
able but th~iey are notL usezd on a regUlar% baiis3.

The farmers surveyed do not sell. U~rtLW4 ,O milk on 4 ~;regua
basis. Milk is produced primarily for home cansumptW 4arich S~
the occasional animal (about one per year) is sold to obtain
ready cash as needed. Cattle are looked on as an investment
or savings. No feeding of crop residue (peanut hay, corn
stubble) is done and no produce is used as cattle feed.

Swine were reared mainly for home consumption with the
excess meat being sold at slaughtering to neighbors close by
the farm. The pigs usually are fed on commercial feeds and
some discarded root crops are used to supplement this.

Poultry are primarily creole stock with three to four far-
mers stocking small quantities of broilers at a time or some
layers. The meat and eggs produced are, again, mainly for
home consumption with some small sales to nearby homes.

Where the pastures are adjacent to the crop areas, a wide
strip of forest is often left s tand ing between them as a
barrier. Some fencing with barbed wire is also done but
this is minimal. The extent of such fencing (four strands
of barbed wire strung on posts 3 m to 4 m apart) varies with
the size, shape, and location of the pasture. The barbed
wire is bought but the fence posts are cut in the forest by
the farmer himself.

Livestock therefore plays a minor role in generating income
for the farm household but contributes to its general wel-
fare and in some instances acts as an economic stabilizer.


Within the traditional farming system there exists very lit-
tle crop-animal interaction primarily because of the insig-
nificance of the livestock component. It is perhaps the fear

of competition that has constrained the development of live-
stock among farmers who are trad itionally crop or iented .
Farmers have indicated that small ruminants (sheep and
goats) will be detrimental to their cropping activities and
have resisted their: introduction. There is also the worry
of wild animals being a menace to small stock.

Use of pen manure for vegetable production is the only sig-
nificant beneficial contribution to the cropping system from
animal activities. Farmers involved in vegetable growing
who do not have direct access to pen manure will obtain
small quantities free of charge from cattle farmers. As far
as is known, no effort is made to collect and use manure
from swine and chickens.

There are other major constraints to production within the
existing farming system. The more important ones are:

-On-farm technology. The level of on-farm technology
has traditionally been low and is one of the factors
responsible for low productivity. Farmers are not moti-
vated to higher levels of technology because of lack of
infrastructural facilities and inadequacy of the insti-
tutional arrangements normally provided for training
and educating the farmer.

-Pests in crop systems. Apart from the normally antici-
pated insect pests and diseases normally associated
with crops in tropical high humidity locations, farmers
in this district face a serious problem of wild animals
(monkey and agouti), which in some seasons can ravage
the maize crop and also do serious damage to root
crops. Farmers feel that ownership and use of firearms
can significantly reduce the monkey menace; however,
strict licensing regulations do not permit this.

-Lack of capital. This is a universal constraint among
small farmers. The state Agricultural Credit Bank pro-
vides a service to farmers who require credit for the
development of their enterprises, but the farmers'
abilities and confidence to manage credit are also con-
strained by other factors, some of which are logistic
in nature.

-Marketing and pricing system. This is perhaps one of
the major constraints to increased production. There
are several farmers whose level of production is condi-
tioned by the market situation. Prices are not always
remunerative, even though the State marketing agency is
committed to purchasing all saleable produce from the

Private buyers or hucksters also compete, successfully with
the marketing agency. It is clear that mearktetring of live-

stock products in either live or dressed form would pose
logistic problems, and perhaps this is one reason why far-
mers give less emphasis to this enterprise.


In the current economic situation, farmers are realizing the
need for cash economics in their farming systems and are
moving toward more permanency on the land. They are culti-
vating crops l ike peanut, cowpea and sweet potato for
which there is a reasonably good market demand and for which
remunerative prices can be obtained. Farmers are also
thinking in terms of expanded acreages of maize, using a
more sophisticated technological production package and
mechanical power for land preparation.

Based on these needs the following research opportunities
would appear to be relevant to the system:

-Work on a long-term intercropping/rotation system comm-
mencingg with traditional slash and burn with maize and
progressing to the establishment of permanent crops.

-Development of improved production techpacks (techno-
logical package for the major crops.

-Examination of the possibility of the introduction and
use of bullocks for land preparation (ploughing ) and
other on-farm activities that require power. This
should strengthen the crop-animal interaction and
improve the level of nutritional self-sufficiency of
the farm family.

-Work on improving postharvest technology and improving
marketing systems.


The on-farm intervention is an impor tan t teaching tool in
improving farmer technology and his level of productivity.
In the survey area, farmers have slowly accepted the concept
of "on-farm research" and in the majority of cases are wil-
ling to cooperate in field tests and demonstrations. Both
approaches of using land made available by the farmer and
superimposing simple trials on the farmer's field are accep-

Some work on farmers' fields has been done by the CARDI
field staff in the survey area. This work has concentrated
on areas that have been identified by farmers as major pro-
duction constraints and has also been designed to create an
immediate impact. Such work includes:

-Esta~blishment of orchard crops and intercropping with
short-term crops.

-Improving the production tech-packs for peanut through
the in tr oduc t ion of al terna tive sys tems of land
preparation and planting, fertilizer use, and improved
pest and disease control.