Farmers can look forward to higher prices with new Biofortified rice – Min. Mustapha

says this is the type of ‘value added’ produce that will set Guyana apart from other agriculture producing countries

With Guyana one step closer to introducing a biofortified rice variety to the local, regional and Latin American markets, rice farmers can expect higher prices for this variety given the fact that its nutritional properties are higher than that of regular rice.

During a reaping exercise for the new zinc infused rice variety last Wednesday, which is still under trial at the Burma Rice Research Station, Agriculture Minister Zulfikar Mustapha stressed the importance of this new variety to the consumers, farmers and the country.

Minister Mustapha and other officials examine the rice variety

“As long as we continue to develop it and produce a candidate variety for farmers to produce in our country, we’ll see tremendous benefits. This will have both economic and health benefits. We were able to actually double the amount of Zinc in the rice rather than to put it artificially into food. This will help a lot of people because with the ongoing pandemic, we are being advised by the health and nutrition specialists to use Zinc and if we can get the required daily amount naturally from the food we eat that would be good. At the same time, this rice has the potential to bring in large amounts of revenue for the farmers and the country because when we export this to countries across the Caribbean and Latin America, we will be able to secure preferential prices. I know that the team at Burma is also working to ensure farmers are able to cultivate this variety at no added cost,” Minister Mustapha said.   

Minister Mustapha also said that this pilot project demonstrates the forward thinking of the government as it relates to value added agricultural produce. He added that even though Guyana has partnered with IICA and CARICOM on the project, it was the exceptional work of the research station and government’s clear goal to revitalize the agriculture sector that saw Guyana being selected to carry out this trial.

“In CARICOM and Latin America, Guyana is the only country selected to cultivate this biofortified rice. I believe Belize currently has biofortified beans on trial. Guyana continues to demonstrate its veracity and capabilities in science, research and development in the rice sector and government will continue to invest heavily in this and other sectors,” Minister Mustapha said.

GRDB’s Chief Scientist, Dr. Mahendra Persaud said that the team of scientists at the Burma Rice Research Station have been observing the variety’s performance for some time and is optimistic that it will be successful once approved for commercial purposes.

“We have seen these line perform at the breathing stage for a number of years and the yields, pest and diseases tolerance, milling and cooking qualities are all parameters that were looked at, and so we can have the best possible strains for the farmers,” Dr. Mahendra said.

A section of the trial plots at the Burma Rice Research Station

The ongoing project aims to curb hunger and mitigate nutrient deficiencies in the Americas as a component of the Council for Trade and Economic Development approved project for production, adoption and consumption of biofortified crops as part of a strategy to address non-communicable diseases in CARICOM.

In Guyana, some 4,650 rice farmers are set to benefit from the project, with an additional 50,000 farmers from CARICOM states also set benefit.

IICA has said “a study to understand the possible effects of zinc biofortification on multiple risk factors for type two diabetes and cardiovascular disease showed that low-dose zinc supplementation, as in consuming zinc biofortified rice, significantly improved specific risk factors for type 2 diabetes (fasting blood glucose and insulin resistance), compared with placebo. This effect was greater than for high-dose supplementation (vitamin tablets) for both outcomes.”

The agency also said for cardiovascular disease risk factors, low-dose zinc supplementation also had a significant positive effect, lowering triglycerides, total cholesterol, and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol. The magnitude of the effect was again greater with low-dose supplementation than high-dosage as zinc biofortified foods have been found to have had an impact on addressing non-communicable diseases.