CLIMATE change poses a threat to crop sustainability and productivity as temperature rises, rainfall patterns vary, and pests and diseases pressure increases. Thus, there is no guarantee that crop varieties presently being cultivated with acceptable yields will continue to do so in a changing climatic environment.
However, it is recognised that crop diversification is one rational and cost-effective way of creating agricultural resilience in the face of changing environmental conditions. At the National Agricultural Research and Extension Institute (NAREI) this problem is being tackled on two fronts. Firstly, there is an active programme of collection, storage and evaluation of accessions (cassava, sweet potato, pepper and tomato) for future use. Secondly, there is a programme to introduce new germplasm into the cropping system to diversify its base. Creating genetic diversity could aid in disease suppression and increased production and stability, and this has been positively linked to increases in mean household income and stability in income.
Farmers are encouraged to diversify their cropping base, targeting import crops. Some crops within the diversification programme include onion, Irish potatoes, carrots, quinoa, and purple passion fruit. Some successes were obtained in onion cultivation locally as elaborated below.
Onions: Onion (Allium cepa L.) is a vegetable cultivated and used around the world, and is widely consumed in Guyana. Majority of onions (white and red varieties) found on the local markets are imported from the United States of America, Canada or India. Guyana has the available land and soil quality (loamy sands and sandy loams) along with climatic suitability to successfully cultivate onions on a large scale and satisfy its local demand.
Research has shown that short-day varieties of both white and red onions can be successfully grown under shaded and open- field conditions. Farmers in Regions Three, Four, Six and 10 have successfully cultivated ¼ area plots of onions under open-field conditions. Areas planted included Supply, Jonestown, Canal # 1, Parika, Free and Easy, Nurney, Kildonan, Bush Lot, Bright Town, Light Town, Phillipi, Transport and West Wootaka.
Onion cultivation will support the agriculture diversification programme that seeks to reduce the number of onions imported and provide food security, especially in hinterland areas. The cultivation of onions under shaded and open field conditions will make all-year-round production possible. Varieties that are adapted to local soil types and ecological conditions are Mercedes, Red Creole, Yellow F1 Granex and Texas Early Grano.
The sourcing of new varieties with desired traits and incorporating them into the already successful varieties provides a way of securing our future. Strengthening crop resilience, however, will require a combination of actions, including maintaining and expanding crop portfolios using both traditional and innovative approaches.