While agricultural produce of a high quality will go a far way in reinstating Guyana
with the coveted title as the “Caribbean’s bread basket”, the development of infrastructure is equally important as it will ensure that the country surmounts the challenges of non-tariff barriers that prevent it from competitively penetrating the export market.
Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Leslie Ramsammy said that it is precisely for this reason that the Government invested in the state-of-the-art laboratories at Mon Repos; essentially taking agriculture to another level.
A few months ago three multi-million dollar laboratories were commissioned: the Veterinary Services Lab, and the Biological Control and Tissue Culture Labs.
“We have to make sure that we are able to test for pesticides and other chemical residues; we have to able to show the nutritional content of our food… we spend $250M on importing food into the country. Can we eliminate every cent of that? No, but we can reduce it by exporting some of what we grow,” the Minister said.
Transforming agriculture from the level of subsistence livelihood to wealth generation is pegged as one of the major successes of the sector and in fact, of the country and while many challenges still exist, the evolution process that the sector has gone through thus far, has brought with it tremendous improvements for those involved in it.
Minister Ramsammy said that, “you go into the agriculture communities people work hard, people do struggle but they are living better. It is the farmer’s children who are now our doctors and lawyers and our accountants and our engineers and that is because we have transformed agriculture from one where farmers were only able to put food on the table to now where they are generating wealth.”
Not only is Guyana now seen as an export oriented industry outside of sugar, but it agro-processing industry has developed and increased by 1000 percent; both in terms of packaging as well as the quantity and quality of local products in supermarket shelves across the country.
The Agriculture Minister spoke of the overwhelming demands of virgin coconut oil and coconut water and Guyana is looking at making these investments with the support of large conglomerates such as Banks DIH and Sterling Products Limited. However, for this to really take off, the coconut industry has to be fully resuscitated.
The present level of cultivation of about 25,000 acres has to be increased and varieties have to be improved. Minister Ramsammy explained that most of the coconut trees are 40-50 years old and as such, the industry have to be reinvigorated by planting new ones.
“Thankfully there are many local investors who are looking to double the cultivation… by 2020 Guyana will have a packing industry for coconut that is of international quality,” he said.
What is now required is the financial investments and technical capacity drive this industry.
The Ministry’s Agriculture Strategy 2013-2020 provides a road map for the sector as a whole, on the way forward. It entails the F5 approach: food security; fiber and nutrition security; fuel (energy) security; fashion, cosmetics and medicine; and furniture, crafts and green commodities.
“We know where we are going, and where we are going will change the aspiration and the potential of being the bread basket of the Caribbean into reality,” the Agriculture Minister said.
Meanwhile, the Ministry is also working to modernise its legislation; ensuring that it remains relevant as the sector transforms. The Food Safety Bill, the Animal Welfare Bill and regulations targeting the fishery sector are all slated for Parliament soon.
As the issue of food security becomes more crucial for the region and the rest of the world, Guyana must position itself to capitalise on the benefits of being not only food secure, but a net exporter of food, as well, and with local impetus in agriculture ever on the increase and this being backed by increasing modern infrastructure, Guyana has reasons to be optimistic.
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