The Rice Industry in Guyana
THE RICE INDUSTRY IN GUYANA
By Gulcharan Mohabir
Quote from Peter Ruhomon “Centenary History of the East
Indians of British Guiana”
“ The rice industry stands out as a living monument to the
industry and perseverance of the Indian and attests, in no uncertain manner, to
his value and usefulness as a colonist”
abolition of slavery, East Indians were brought under a new form of slavery
called the “indenture system” to rescue the sugar industry. The fact that the
sugar industry is still a highly successful and viable industry in Guyana to
this day, and the major foreign exchange earner in the country, is a testimony
to how well they attained that goal.
the sugar plantation owners realized that they would be faced with two major
problems after the indentureship period ended for each indentured person:
The very high cost of returning to India all
these people who had completed their period of indentureship;
They would still face labour shortage to work on
the sugar estates.
Many Indians did return to
India, but the whole process of bringing and returning Indians from India
quickly proved extremely expensive.
In 1871, a
plan was devised, whereby the return passage to India were commuted for land
grants by the British Guiana government to all those East Indians who had
completed their period of indentureship.
appealed very strongly to these people, whose dream was always to possess their
own land. In fact, many who had actually saved money during their days of
indentureship, used their savings to acquire larger plots of land, while small
loans were made available to some others to purchase more land.
that they were given to them for the most part were swamp land, it was
therefore necessary for these people had to prepare the land for planting of
crops, and develop irrigation systems. Land settlements developed in such areas
as Anna Regina, Whim, Canje Creek, Mahaica/Mahaicony, etc.
Up to this
time rice was not grown in British Guiana. It was actually being imported into
to country, because rice was a staple diet of East Indians. Prior to 1865, the
country was importing over 22,000 tons of rice annually from India, and paying
over 220,000 British pounds for this.
Indians who had come from the Calcutta region was familiar with rice growing at
Chota Nagpur, and also those who had come from Uttar Pradesh. These East
Indians started growing rice locally, and constructed their own rice mills. The
industry developed very quickly. In this
endeavor, they were assisted by the local Ministry of Agriculture.
basically a seasonal crop. So, with the extra time available, the people grew
cattle, and also planted other crops, such as fruits, vegetables and ground
provisions, at first for their own consumption, and later for sale to other
inhabitants living in the mainly urban areas.
importation of rice had dropped to 2.700 tons. By what was more important, the
colony was now exporting rice to the West Indies.
importance of the rice industry was firmly established during the first World
War. During that tragedy, wheat flour became too expensive to import. A
substitute, rice flour, asserted itself.
over 63,000 acres of land were under rice cultivation in different parts of the
country, producing 42,000 tons of rice, of which 14,000 tons were exported to
the West Indian islands. Rice had become a staple diet for all Guyanese, and
the colony was finally able to satisfy the demand for this product from locally
the industry had reached such size that it became necessary to form a Rice
Marketing Board to handle the grading and marketing of rice for export.
Initially, this helped to stabilize the industry and worked to increase the
industry in British Guiana had attained major importance. It was a major
foreign exchange earner for the country. It had also established East Indians
as bona fide citizens of the country, and many families became very wealthy by
planting rice. One factor of great importance was that of independence. Many
East Indians did not have to become Christians to get up in life. Rice growing
gave them that opportunity.
Ruhomon “ Thus from humble beginnings, the Rice Industry has risen to position
second to the Sugar Industry, in the agriculture life of the colony and, for
this wonderful achievement the humble Indians must be given the sole credit in
building it up, step by step, against the adverse conditions and unfavourable
circumstances they had to contend with, in their courageous and persevering
efforts to save it from being crushed, at its incipient stage.