By Abena Rockcliffe
Despite calls to put the project on hold, Trinidad and Guyana have moved to a next
stage in the food security programme. The project is one which allows Trinidad investors to access vast tracts of land in Guyana for agricultural purposes.
The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed on September 6, last year. Guyana’s Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Leslie Ramsammy and Trinidad’s Minister of Food Production, Devant Maharaj, said that the programme was developed to address a need to improve food security and reduce the food import bill of the two countries.
Some Trinidad farmers and a section of Guyana’s political opposition objected to the project. The Trinidad famers contended that there was no need for the project, while Guyana’s opposition called for consultations.
However, the two countries have since moved on. One group, the Guyana Citrus Growers, has already begun cultivation in the intermediate savannahs.
As a result of last year’s Memorandum of Understanding, a group of Trinidadian investors traveled to Guyana with Minister Maharaj and remain here to do scoping.
Productive, rewarding, and fruitful were the words used by Guyana’s Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Leslie Ramsammy and Trinidad’s Minister, Devant Maharaj, to describe the way recent discussions went.
Ramsammy co-chaired a joint meeting between Ministry of Agriculture, other government agencies, Trinidadian potential investors and a team from the Trinidad government headed by Maharaj. Fifteen potential investors were represented in the meeting which began on Thursday.
Dr. Ramsammy told the media, yesterday, that Thursday’s meeting represented an advanced step in the project.
He said that investors are now in Guyana on a scoping visit after which they are expected to develop proposals for possible investments.
Minister Ramsammy said, “I don’t want anybody to think that after (Thursday’s) meeting we will have Trinidad investors with lands ready to start cultivating. We are not there yet.”
He said, however, that Guyana and Trinidad are looking to get to that point soon.
The Trinidad and Tobago Agricultural Minister said that the investors are very impressed by what was presented by Guyana. He said that it represents great potential for both countries.
“Many thought that when we first floated this idea, many years ago, it would remain a pie in the sky goal, not to be achieved… We have already in Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago Citrus Growers Association with 1000 acres allocated to them of which 200 acres are in cultivation,” said Maharaj.
He said that the new investors have a successful model to look at.
Maharaj disclosed that Trinidad imports around 90 percent of its citrus from Belize and Costa Rica. “We don’t see why not from closest neighbor, Guyana. Trinidad investors are willing to put their money where their mouths are.”
He told media operatives that the project is married to TT$4B Food Import Bill. He said that he hopes the initiative can significantly reduce the high bill and enhance food security while addressing food inflation which he said contributes to overall inflation.
The Trinidad investors are interested in six products that include corn, soya, sorghum and fruit. Corn is needed for the poultry industry. The Trinidad Minister explained that if the price of corn can be controlled it will lead to a reduced poultry price. And poultry is the regional staple; every country has chicken as its common food.
Minister Ramsammy said that while the Canje basin and the intermediate savannah are the main areas expected to be utilized, depending on the results of the scoping work “we may very well have different sites for the farming.”
He explained that the lands will be leased to investors but Guyana is open to other land use proposals.
Dr. Ramsammy said, “We are not going to allow international investors to come and compete with our local farmers and investors… we are encouraging local investors to compete in the new areas.”
“We cannot be talking about 20 acres or 50 acres; we are talking about around 10,000 acres to start off.”
Dr. Ramsammy said, however, that more than that can be leased based on discussions as the project develops.
Ramsammy said that Guyana will not allow the investors to sit on huge tracts of idle land but we are willing to give a moderate amount to make the investment “meaningful.”
The Ministers said yesterday that the project is aimed at benefitting the entire Region but Guyana and Trinidad will remain priority.
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