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By Alva Solomon
In 2019, Sonia Sears decided to tag along with her aunt to her farm aback the Aranaputa Valley near Annai in the North Rupununi. That simple trip turned out to be vital to the family’s welfare, especially when the COVID-19 pandemic stalled social and economic life in the area. Sears is now farming fulltime and she is not only able to feed her family but also exploring commercial avenues for her crops.
The mother of two was raised at the Aranaputa Valley, a savannah land community at Annai where coastlanders and Rupununi residents settled over the years. In her teenage years, Sears was actively farming and even after her mother passed away during that time, she continued tilling the land.
However, as life evolved she left the village in search of greener pastures and sometime in the early 1990s she returned to the village but adjusting to life was difficult. “When I returned it was hard to go back to farming because so much was happening,” she told Village Voice News during an interview. But in 2019, her aunt invited her on a trip to the former’s farm to reap peanuts- a crop which is famously cultivated in the area. Sears, who runs the Aranaputa Peanut Processing factory, noted that while reaping the crops that day, in the height of the conversation, her aunt told her that she can plant her own peanut crops nearby on a plot.
“I said okay, I spoke to my daughter and my son and we started clearing the land,” she said, adding that she planted cassava stalks on a half-acre of land. This led to a further extension of the plot,”so we started cutting down more land to plant.”
She said she planted a crop of bananas but the plant disease, Black Sigatoka, affected the plants and as such she had to shift the crop and replanted an additional crop as well as some plantain crops.
This led to the family considering more crops and as such eddoes, sweet cassava and even cash crops were eventually cultivated. “Without realising what we were into, we found that we were farming on a steady scale,” she added, as she noted the farm is located some 4 miles in the backdam area aback the Aranaputa Valley.
Built a camp
“And then we decided we should build our own camp,” Sears said, adding that this was done in January this year. She said the decision was made after the family realised that their supplies of bananas, cassava among other crops were growing. “We are getting too much supplies,” she said.
She said to build the camp, her son used some materials he had at their family home and the family hired a tractor to ferry the materials to the site. With the help of friends, the camp’s frame was built within hours ; it is still being fine-tuned.
Sears said that from the cassava crops, she decided to make farine, a staple which is used all across the Rupununi as a substitute for rice. Farine, which is made from the cassava tuber is made on a medium scale by the family but Sears said the family was able to make as much as 4000 pounds of farine in recent times.
She said her family utilises a quantity in their kitchen while the remainder is sold. The Bina Hill Institute, which is located within the Annai district near Aranaputa, had ordered her farine for the students there. She said the entity requested 40 pounds of farine for April 2021 but she noted that since she isn’t the only one producing farine, competition is stiff.
In addition, she said while the family utilises plantains for their own use, in recent weeks she started retailing the plantains outside of the area, noting that her plantains reach as far as the town of Lethem. But according to Sears, putting food on the family’s table comes first and as such, exploring the commercial opportunities came about after their crops were requested by persons in the area. ”So like early 2020 , when this COVID came and affected everyone, we were producing our own food, we stopped buying provisions, farine and cassava because we provide it for ourselves so we don’t have to buy it,” she added. She said it was during 2020 that her family recognised the importance of agriculture.
Looking ahead, Sears said her family will continue planting their main crops but they have a plan in place to explore cultivating citrus. She said citrus plants grow “very fast” in the area and she noted too that the family will also focus more on the cash crops such as bora and pumpkins among others. ”So because the backdam area is cold and humid, we think the vegetables will grow well there,” she added.