Rooted in Agriculture
Aziz Mazarali
Aziz Mazarali

Exploring the enduring agricultural lifestyle amidst modern changes

WHAT comes to mind when you think of living in the countryside? Is it plush green acres of rice lands and fruit trees? Clean blackwater canals or a troop of adventurous young men exploring the dense forestry? Aziz Mazarali describes all of this and more in talking about the community of La Grange decades ago. Independence Street La Grange is a unique community. Surrounded by industrial development, Independence Street continues to preserve much of its old way of life and traditional agricultural practices.

The community is slated to be among the development hubs, and the rest is in the centre of infrastructural changes. However, the community barely resembles an industrial site, as many would suspect. Independence Street is still name and nature. It is a quiet and easygoing community, where neighbours still live like family, and farming is the order of the day. And according to most villagers, their authentic way of doing things will always remain, just like their good nature. Surrounded by change, La Grange continues to hold on to its roots.

Forty-three-year-old Aziz is West Side born and bred, with Independence Street being the only home he has ever known. Growing up on Independence Street before it was the blossoming hub it is today is reminiscent of life far from the capital city of Georgetown. But just beyond the Demerara Harbour Bridge and the majestic river it crosses, life on Independence Street is still quiet, which many call ‘country living’. Originally a farming community, Independence Street and greater La Grange was home to agricultural excellence.

Its various assortment of trees and canals made for an amazing playground for young Aziz, unlike any other. As he reminisced, “ I was born and raised in this house across the road. Growing up, we used to swim in the trench. We used to go fishing in the water. We used to bathe and wash and everything in the water. When you mess it up, our parents would beat us. But growing up in the village was nice and quiet. Everybody knew everybody.”

Like so many of Independence Street’s inhabitants, Aziz is also a farmer in his spare time. According to him, although a residential area, most of the people in his village have at least a kitchen garden. A few small gardens here and there are not unusual for most communities. But, Independence Street hosts a strong agricultural presence. Behind most of the community’s homes, a farm of some kind could be found. Some villagers take it to sell produce or simply share it with others. As Aziz shared, “Most people have their jobs. They go out and work. But some still farm part-time. Some people do cattle.”

Aziz among the plants on his farm.

Although agriculture is very much alive and well in the village, most people do it as a pastime, a lifelong practice that has become a tradition. Many people are reluctant to do farming on a large scale, except for a few. Many argue that agriculture just is not profitable in the area. But this raises a few questions. Why is farming not profitable in a community as agriculturally rooted as this one? Why do people continue to pursue farming?

Aziz has seen Independence Street change throughout the years, from a village characterised by basic necessities to a blossoming community. To Aziz, the major issues with farming in the community lie not in agriculture itself but in marketing.  Independence Street has a vibrant agricultural sector, but it is easy to miss unless it is looked for. Aziz explained, “In the community, everyone knows how to farm, but very few know how to market. “I think the issue with farming in the community is marketing. Because when you’re done, and you get the produce, you don’t get the market. And when you don’t get the market, it costs you to invest. It is not so profitable.”

But why are people so committed to farming? The community of Independence Street is like many Guyanese villages that hold on to their roots. To the people of this village, agriculture, cash crops and fresh greens are more a way of life than a livelihood. Aziz and countless others have been raised among the farmlands. In a rapidly changing landscape, the village holds the authenticity of agriculture.

This is not to say they reject change. On the contrary, the village has accepted and adapted to the development extremely well. There has even been government intervention to boost agriculture in the community further. But to many, farming is simply the way they do things. Aziz shared, “So most of the people don’t give up on farming. Some of the people who farm right now they just put the produce right on the road. Right now, because of the scheme, a lot of people pass. And they get fresh stuff. These are the few people that farm.”

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