WHEN one spoke about the principal agricultural community in East Berbice, Region Six in bygone years, vivid pictures of squalor in an inundated Black Bush Polder came to mind; and one could not help but think about the sordid tales of destruction to crops and livestock, slushy dams, intolerable roads, and an infrastructure that begged for attention in a community that was so rich in agricultural potential, it was touted as ‘The Breadbasket of the Caribbean’.
Today, the positive tales about Black Bush Polder are made possible through continued Government efforts to transform that community into not only a beautiful village, but also a location where residents can enjoy a better standard of living.
Words like comfort, solace, progress, peace and satisfaction are slowly but steadily coming from the lips of many residents; and indeed, there is still room for improvement in many areas, but compared to years gone by, Black Bush Polder is experiencing positive evolution!
We engaged in a very interesting conversation with a resident who was in Georgetown on business, and accepted his invitation to visit the location. We may not have been able to visit ‘every nook and cranny’ in that dynamic community, but we were truly spellbound by the serene beauty of Black Bush Polder, especially since it is en route to significant transformation.
Black Bush Polder is a farming community with a population of over 6,000 residents. Up until 2009, it had been experiencing serious social problems and deteriorating roadways, but with the intervention of Government in several areas, life seems more promising.
The polder is made up of four main areas: Lesbeholden, Johanna, Mibicuri and Yakusari. Each of these areas has a north section and a south section; and there is also an area called Zambia, a small village nestled between Johanna and Mibicuri, and populated predominantly by Afro-Guyanese.
Black Bush Polder stretches to a distance of 22 miles, and is located about seven miles south of the Corentyne Public Road, beginning at Adventure, where the entrance leads to Lesbeholden and exits at Number 43 Village, at Yakusari. Those areas are dominated by Indo-Guyanese.
Rice is the main crop cultivated in BBP, and most of the residents there are involved in either large or small-scale rice farming, but some are engaged in cash crop farming and livestock rearing.
Large expanses of land are under rice cultivation, and one has to agree that it’s a very beautiful sight to watch the movement of the lush, green rice plants as they seem to float hazily on the refreshing wind rustling through their blades.
Rice farming is indeed the main source of employment for Black Bush residents
Old Black Bush
There were positive and negative values in Black Bush Polder in years gone by. Both locals and outsiders dubbed the polder the biggest agriculture-based location in Guyana, and that area is reputed to produce a large amount of Guyana’s rice, vegetables, and even ground provision for both local consumption and export purposes.
But even as this was so, farmers had the time of their lives netting maximum produce and getting it to the city for sale and export, because of the bad drainage and irrigation that had plagued the location for quite some time.
Access roads to the backland farming areas were intolerable during the rainy season, and excessive flooding was a constant menace to farmers, causing them to lose big time during harvesting. Many crops were badly damaged or completely destroyed during the rainy season, thus robbing farmers of their only source of livelihood.
The roads were also unbearable, being littered with large, unattended potholes, causing great discomfort to both pedestrians and commuters. Drivers were made to spend large sums to repair the damage their vehicles had sustained from attempting to access Black Bush Polder.
Many also told tales of the bridges which badly needed repairs to ensure farmers comfortably accessed their farms to tend to or reap crops.
Black Bush today
Today, the negative tales about Black Bush Polder can safely be thrown aside and crushed underfoot because of several initiatives the government has undertaken to ensure maximum development of the community.
And that is because, with concern for the comfort and welfare of citizens, the government has intervened over the years to ensure that Black Bush Polder is transformed significantly into a location that can now hold its own amongst the prime spots of Guyana, and can even become quite a treat for tourists and Guyanese who desire the ‘quieter side of life’, and love to come to soak up the comforting sights of Mother Nature.
Improvements in the location’s infrastructure are very significant, and the polder has benefited from efforts by the Ministry of Agriculture in years gone by, that saw the massive rehabilitation of structures and canals at Yakusari and Johanna.
Shouldn’t the farmers be even happier?
In November last year, with every intention of easing their woes, especially during the rainy seasons, Government began construction of a two-door sluice at East Black Bush Polder costing some $417 M and being executed by Rupan Ramotar Investments. The sluice encompasses a canal and two pump stations, to effectively drain the popular cattle-rearing and rice-growing area. Completion of this project is slated for March 2013.
Presently, there are 17,500 acres of land under rice cultivation in the area, as works continue apace to meet the annual production target and supply the country’s market demands. In the past, rice farmers suffered losses, hence the huge investment in drainage and irrigation in the region.
Meanwhile, there has been development in terms of education, and all of the schools in Black Bush Polder have been rehabilitated and have benefited from provision of additional teachers.
The Black Bush Polder Secondary School at Mibicuri, according to reports coming from within that institution, has, over the years, performed fairly well at the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate examinations.
At Mibicuri, there are a police station, a post office, and the office of the Black Bush Polder Neighbourhood Democratic Council.
Why the name?
Just in case a reader is wondering why this location has been named Black Bush Polder, let’s try to appease your curiosity. Firstly, you will, of course, have to become acquainted with what is a polder.
A polder is a low-lying tract of land enclosed by embankments (barriers) known as dikes that form an artificial hydrological entity, meaning that it has no connection with outside water other than through manually-operated devices. There are three types of polders, and these include land reclaimed from a body of water such as a lake or the sea bed; flood plains separated from the sea or river by a dike; and marshes separated from the surrounding water by a dike and subsequently drained.
The ground level in drained marshes subsides over time, and thus all polders will eventually be below the surrounding water level for some or all of the time. Water enters the low-lying polder through groundswell owing to water pressure on ground water or rainfall, and is transported by rivers and canals. This usually means that the polder has an excess of water, which needs to be pumped out or drained by opening sluices at low tide. However, care must be taken not to set the internal water level too low. Polder land made up of peat (former marshland) will show accelerated compression owing to the peat decomposing in dry conditions.
Polders are at risk from flooding at all times, and care must be taken to protect the surrounding dikes. Dikes are mostly built using locally available materials, and each has its own risk factor: sand is prone to collapse owing to oversaturation by water; while dry peat is lighter than water, making the barrier potentially unstable in very dry seasons. Some animals dig tunnels in the barrier, undermining the structure. The muskrat is notorious for this behaviour.
Polders are most commonly, though not exclusively, found in river deltas, former fenlands and coastal areas. It is the same situation with the land here in Guyana, and the vegetation it had before it was actually developed into a polder gave it the name ‘Black Bush Polder’.
Roads to the rescue
In November 2012, Minister within the Ministry of Finance, Bishop Juan Edghill, announced that the $400M Black Bush Polder road had been completed but there were minor works which still to be done, him having checked on the progress of this and several other projects during an outreach exercise to Berbice.
Drivers and other commuters are elated that the road has been completed, since they are now able to ply the route in comfort and also garner more income, since they can now transport passengers in less time. Also, they now can travel without the fear of incurring extensive damage to their vehicles by the prior badly deteriorated roads.
The road into Lesbeholden now affords comfortable transport through efforts of the Guyana Government.
Other encouraging features
Drilling for oil began not so long ago in Yakusari, and the Seed Paddy Plant in Lesbeholden has been constructed, making farmers more comfortable, since all their processing of paddy can be done in the area, thus avoiding major transportation costs to other locations.
Our very arrival at Black Bush Polder was greeted with the overwhelming hospitality of a hard working but friendly people.
Car and minibus drivers were sporting flashing smiles as they directed us around the polder. Mothers rushing around on their busy errands never failed to gave us a smile and welcoming salutations. This was very stirring, and what surprised us most was the well mannered school children who never passed us without a “Good afternoon sir” coming from their smiling lips.
They, however, blushed shyly at any attempt to make conversation, and seemed more concerned about getting home, maybe for the tasty refreshments awaiting them.
The chatter of a few roadside vendors was very welcoming, and the delicious taste of ‘kool down’ (drink in plastic bags) and polouri transported us back to years when we ran around as little boys, saving our dimes to purchase the same in our villages.
If you are a quiet person who loves the outdoors and the wind in your hair, then Black Bush Polder is the place for you. Hop on a muddied tractor……It’s quite a thrill as you bump and rattle your way to the backlands. The fresh, pure wind will do wonders for your lungs, and the many beautiful butterflies fluttering around would remind you of the Creator’s creativity when he moulded Mother Nature.
Oh my! Such beautiful, colourful pondflies make crazy patterns in the air, making that lovely sound as their translucent wings clash together.
It’s the sight of the dark green young rice plants swaying in the wind that will leave you spellbound. Every now and then, a mongoose or some other creature will rush out of the rice fields, and look you in the eye before dashing off into the bushes.
You can tie your hammock in a tree and enjoy a good novel, or simply soak up the natural beauty of Black Bush Polder. From its rapidly developing roads, lush rice fields, thick vegetation, and many appealing waterways, Black Bush Polder does not only have compelling tourist appeal, but can certainly hold its own among our most exotic sites.