I feel really sorry for the Minister of Agriculture Robert Montgomery Persaud. It does now look as if perhaps he has bitten off more than he can chew in relation to the agriculture sector.
I did warn him when he took over as Minister that there were certain areas which he should concentrate his efforts. I said, then, that he needed to pay careful attention to GuySuCo.
Economic growth is often predicated on what happens in the sugar industry and Persaud needed to seriously ensure that he was always on top of the situation within the sugar industry by looking at production figures and the problems with the factory.
He may have done so but it now seems as if GuySuCo will have one of its worst years since the PPP took office.
Drainage was always going to be a big undertaking. Some $1.5 billion may seem quite a great deal of money to be spent on improving the drainage and irrigation systems in the country.
I can tell you it is not enough to even maintain the entire D&I network much less to do the sort of work that is necessary to allow for adequate drainage alone.
We are dealing with a drainage and irrigation system which for all intents and purposes was on the brink of collapse as was evident in the 2005 floods. The $1.7B is simply a drop in the bucket.
I do contend, however, that better could have been done since the Ministry has at its disposal a number of long boom excavators which when put to maximum use, could have made a world of difference to the drainage situation.
I do not believe that the situation is as serious as some media reports are making it out to be. I, however, do not believe that the drainage system has improved in any appreciable way in this country.
I have lived a long time in Guyana. I have always enjoyed the weather at this time of the year and that is because in the past despite flooding in some areas, the water would often drain off quickly.
I have seen heavy rains in Guyana and I am not convinced that we are experiencing any unusual rain patterns in Guyana. I recall on Christmas probably in the late seventies, there was non-stop rain for three consecutive days beginning from Christmas Eve night right through to Boxing Day.
There was far more rain in those three days than what has so far fallen this rainy season. I recall also around the same period, I left my home to go and make a purchase in a nearby shop. I did not expect the rains and it came while I was making my purchase.
It was torrential so much so that I had to shelter for close to three hours in that shop. There was no flooding. We know what happened to the drainage and irrigation systems from that period onwards.
We know the state of neglect of some of the major agriculture areas. It was never going to be easy to fix three decades of neglect. There was never going to be enough resources.
We must not believe that the money we are now spending is going to make a difference and I do not believe that the Ministry of Agriculture ever promised that the money was enough.
Even before the 2005 floods, this column warned about impending problems and also the tremendous economic cost that flooding causes.
This is why I have always been urging all along for farmers to pay increased lease fees for drainage and irrigation. The lease fees are atrocious. No one who makes his living through cultivation should refuse to pay $3,000 per acre per year.
If you cannot make money by simply paying three thousand dollars an acre, you should not be into cultivation.
It costs billions of dollars to maintain the drainage and irrigation system and, therefore, if farmers wish to reduce their losses each year, they should be willing to pay to ensure proper drainage.
I know that the large farmers will rebel at the idea of having to pay the proposed fee that I am suggesting, but I am saying that they do pay in the end because of their inability to cultivate the land whenever there is flooding or lack of irrigation.
What we have is a chicken and egg situation. The farmers believe that because of crop losses they cannot afford realistic fees for drainage and irrigations. I agree it is hard to ask some farmers to pay increased lease fees at this time.
On the other hand, without this source of revenue, the drainage system cannot be improved to any appreciable level and therefore there will always be crop losses.
What is therefore needed is for everyone to understand that the problem of flooding is not just a problem for the Ministry of Agriculture.
It concerns everyone and therefore what is required is for everyone to bear some of the burden involved in improving the situation. The middle name of the Minister of Agriculture is that of a former general.
Right now Robert Montgomery Persaud needs to come up with a plan to marshal the resources of all Guyanese if we are to stop flooding in Guyana within the next three years.
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