The Impacts of Climate Change on Rice Production and Small Farmers' Adaptation: A Case of Guyana


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Virginia Tech


Prior research has concluded that climate change is having an overall negative impact on rice production worldwide. The vast majority of climate change impacts on rice production result from fluctuations in precipitation and temperature, which lead to flooding, water scarcity, and increases in insects and pests, diseases, and weeds. As a small developing country, Guyana is highly vulnerable to climate change despite its insignificant contribution to global warming. Guyana heavily relies on rice cultivation for food, employment, and export earnings. While generally increasing, rice yields have fluctuated over the last two decades. For example, in 2016, rice yields declined by 12.7 percent due to a drought. This dissertation explores the relationship between fluctuating yields and climate change, and how farmers are adapting.

Of particular importance are the impacts of climate change on small farmers (those cultivating less than 4.45 hectares or 11 acres) and their ability to successfully adapt. Small farmers are especially vulnerable to a changing climate because they often lack the necessary knowledge, support, and resources to effectively respond and adapt. Given the large percentage of rice farmers engaging in small-scale production in Guyana, this study investigates the impacts of climate variability on rice production and the extent to which the production and productivity of small farmers are affected. It also identifies the coping strategies small farmers employ to combat the effects of climate change and the extent to which these strategies are successful.

Given that climate change is expected to vary across different regions of the world, the first aim of this study is to show how the climate in Guyana has changed. At the country level, evidence from descriptive statistics, a linear trend model, and a two-sample t-test shows that minimum and maximum temperatures have increased over the last 111 years. The aggregate data is less clear on changes in precipitation over the last 111 years.

However, analysis of farm-level data provides strong evidence of shifts in rainfall patterns. Among 189 small farmers interviewed, 182 (96.3%) perceived changes in rainfall patterns, 170 (89.9%) perceived changes in temperature, 169 (89.4%) perceived changes in extreme weather events, 185 (97.9%) perceived changes in insects and pests, 73 (38.6%) perceived changes in diseases, and 168 (88.9%) perceived changes in weeds.

Changes in precipitation have included an increase in intensity and out of season rainfall, which has impacted harvesting due to poor dams, wet fields, and the lodging of plants. The primary responses farmers have adopted include adjusting planting dates based on water availability and the cultivation of different rice varieties. Changes in temperature have resulted in hotter days, accelerating the evaporation of water from fields. In response, farmers replenish water in their fields, when available. Excess rainfall and resulting flooding, drought, and heavy winds have been the primary extreme weather events observed. Excess rainfall and associated flooding submerges, uproots, and/or kills young plants. The lodging of plants due to heavy winds and flooding has been the main impact. In response to flooding, farmers have pumped water out of their fields. There is very little that farmers can do in response to heavy winds.

The primary change in insects and pests reported by farmers has been an increase in paddy bug infestations, which cause damage to the grains resulting in lower quality and quantity at harvest. As a result, farmers are engaging in more preventative spraying. An increase in brown spot disease was also reported. Brown spots are primarily found on the leaves, damaging and/or stunting the growth of the plants by reducing the amount of food they manufacture through photosynthesis. Farmers have responded by engaging in preventative spraying and the rotation of fungicides. Increases in red rice and duckweed have been the major changes in weeds observed. Both weeds compete with rice for space, sunlight, nutrients, and water. Additionally, red rice reduces the quality and by extension the price farmers receive. Farmers are responding by spraying more herbicide and using a contact chemical to burn red rice.

Multivariate analysis of farm-level data found that land tenure, tractor ownership, membership in an agricultural organization(s), secondary non-agricultural income, and farms located in regions two and four have positive correlations with annual yields. Perceived changes in rainfall, farm size, livestock ownership, participation in rice extension training, and household members help with rice farming were found to have negative correlations with annual yields.

Policy recommendations to improve rice production and farmers' resilience include improving research and development capacity; tax exemption for agricultural inputs and equipment; improving extension services; improving the management of irrigation systems and water resources; enhanced access to credit, insurance, and subsidies; improving weather forecasting and climate monitoring; and improving the management of drainage infrastructure.

The analytical framework used in this research produced a rich dataset and interesting results that are important to our understanding of farm-level impacts and responses to climate change. As such, it may prove useful for studying climate change impacts in other developing countries that have similar characteristics and face similar risks from climate change as Guyana.



Climate Change, Climate Variability, Rice Production, Small Farmers, Climate Adaptation, Guyana