Feb 19, 2009 News Comments Off on Agriculture sector on path of further strengthening economy
By Tusika Martin
The criticisms of the agriculture sector were yesterday addressed in the National Assembly when Minister of Agriculture, Robert Persaud gave a review of the performance in 2008 and outlined the strategies for a growth of the sector during 2009.
In his almost two-hour presentation, the Minister stressed the need for cooperation to enable growth within the sector while extending an open invitation to the opposition parties in offering constructive and realistic suggestions in moving the sector, especially the sugar industry, forward.
He noted that agriculture has a key role to play in further strengthening and solidifying of the economy to withstand the shocks of the global crisis and allowing the country to take advantage of the opportunities presented.
This will lead to the continuous path of economic development and poverty alleviation, he noted.
Persaud told the National Assembly that with the crisis possibly affecting remittance flows from the Diaspora quite severely and likely impacting on the major exports, there is need to ensure that the country produces and earns enough to remain ‘food secure’ while generating enough exchange earnings to pay for the goods that are imported.
The expanding and diversification of the agriculture sector, he said, will achieve this goal by increasing the export earnings through expanding the range of export products, improving their value added and quality.
At the same time, it will allow the country to diminish the exposure to the effects of volatile global commodity markets.
The Minister stated that Budget 2009 is preparing and adapting the country for the uncertain and complex global socio-economic and climatic conditions.
Giving a review of 2008, the Minister added that production and productivity have increased significantly, particularly since the launching of ‘Grow More Food’ campaign last March.
He added that there have also been increased support services and market opportunities for cash crop farmers and exporters through market information and export facilitation.
“When global food output dropped, in Guyana we saw an overall increase. Last year globally 900 million people were threatened with hunger, but our people had access to affordable food. We today remain the only country in CARICOM which enjoys food security.”
The promise of the sector is strong, he noted, pointing out to the National Assembly that 60 new agri business investment projects are being considered, with another 49 to be approved.
He said that there will be numerous job creation opportunities and enhancement of the resilience of the economy during the year.
The performance of the sugar sector was mixed and an area of deep concern during 2008, the Minister said.
Sugar production was affected by a myriad of factors, largely weather related.
The non-commissioning of the new factory at Skeldon also meant that some 60,000 tonnes of sugarcane could not be harvested for the production of 5,000 tonnes of sugar.
And delay damages amounting to US$5M is being sought to compensate the company, he added.
Significant sugar was lost during the commissioning process in 2008 and the final production for the industry was 226,267 tonnes of the targeted 279,000 tonnes.
He told the National Assembly that GuySuCo’s production has been in decline since 2005. However, the decision to change management and cut cost at the corporation is a bold and forward-looking step to reverse the decline and ensure that the modernisation and restructuring programme is not derailed.
GuySuCo also advanced its efforts in trademark and brand protection for its retail sugars and moved closer to having the name ‘Demerara’ protected internationally, Persaud said.
During 2008, sales of packaged Demerara Gold, Demerara Brown and bagged Demerara Gold increased from 6,083 tonnes in 2007 to 7,059 tonnes.
He noted that the new Skeldon factory is being prepared for sugar production for the current sugar crop, adding that the reasons for the delay are common with any factory of such magnitude.
At present, he told the House, 4.5 megawatts of electricity is being supplied to the grid with a capacity of eight megawatts being available.
Private cane farmers, the agriculture Minister said, are moving apace along with GuySuCo expansion of cultivation areas to ensure adequate supply of cane for the new factory.
He added that the ‘road ahead for sugar’ will not be ‘smooth sailing’ as the EU price cuts will take effect from the last quarter of 2009.
This will result in GuySuCo’s revenue declining significantly.
“We can overcome in the future. This will not happen this year or the next, and will certainly not happen by chance. It requires hard work, sacrifice and dedication to overcome the present and future challenges.”
Last year, the Minister said, was a ‘golden year’ for the industry, not only because it marked 100 years since Guyana began exporting rice, but it marked the highest production in five years.
The increased production also led to the highest export recorded in Guyana.
It is expected that during 2009, some 306,156 metric tonnes will be produced and it is also anticipated that the industry will earn around US $113M.
During this year, $1.1B will be allocated to boost the expansion and development of non-traditional agricultural subsectors, with special emphasis on institutional strengthening, training, research and development and increasing levels of production.
According to the Minister, Guyana is today self-sufficient in its basic livestock food needs.
“We saw wide-ranging interventions across all major animal categories lead to improved breeds which, in addition to the measures taken to rehabilitate and expand pastures, will deliver a stronger livestock and dairy industry.”
A three percent growth is projected as a result of improved breeds of cattle and numbers of swine distributed in 2008, increased production levels of poultry meat and reduced levels of grain prices, which will significantly reduce cost and give farmers access to improved breeds, and will increase their production and product quality, the Minister added.
Some $7M, he said, have been allocated to further pasture establishment and rehabilitation.
The Agriculture Export Diversification Programme, he added, will provide institutional support to the cattle sector.
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