Oct 29, 2020 Letters
When the PNCR government closed the Wales Sugar Estate in 2015, on the grounds that it was running at a huge financial loss for several years, former PNCR member Stanley Ming, said categorically that the lands should be converted into an aquaculture farming area. What seems striking is that although he made that pronouncement, I doubt whether he believed in its viability. Had he and the PNCR ever seriously embraced the aquaculture venture, they would have implemented it within their five-year regime. They did not. I believe that they knew that aquaculture was not a promising idea. Ming only made that statement to provide a rationale for the hurt that the PNCR government had inflicted on the sugar estate community.
There has been limited discussion on the possibility of introducing aquaculture, as part of the diversification of GUYSUCO’s operations. The few people who embrace this idea feel that sugar is a lost cause. Many of us share a different view. In addition, their (pessimistic) position runs counter to the government’s claim that sugar could break even in 4-5 years’ time, and then begin to make a profit. Sugar is much more than that the product; it represents a corporate conscience, a challenging history, fluctuating fortunes, a tradition, and a way of life for several communities.
Not to mention that thousands of dismissed workers who are being rehired as well as others, plus sugar’s contribution to GDP and to foreign exchange earnings, there is a huge market for sugar (over 226 tons per annum) in the Caribbean. With the value-added product of refined sugar, Guyana could easily tap into this as well as other markets. At present, GUYSUCO should focus on sugar production, including refined sugar and co-generation. Further diversification should come later.
There is also the pressure to introduce industrial hemp. Should the government approve this product, it is likely to yield economic returns many times more than aquaculture. And experts tell us that hemp cultivation could add about 30% to sugar cane productivity. This is what is needed and not aquaculture that will erode the focus on the revival of the sugar cane industry. Farmed fish is also a health risk.
Almost every Guyanese that I know in the diaspora consumes wild fish (marine or ocean) such as bangamary, butter fish, snapper, trout, catfish, etc. Farmed fish (reared in reservoirs, ponds, etc.) is never popular and consumers tend to avoid it. Since farmed fish is reared on a different diet (inclusive of antibiotics, which contribute to the growth of antibiotic-resistant bacteria), this could lead to serious health consequences. Farmed tilapia, for example, has high mercury level as well as elevated levels of Omega –6 fatty acids, which could lead to inflammatory diseases, such as arthritis, and even cause cancer. In comparison, wild caught tilapia has healthy Omega-3 fatty acids. “A serving of wild caught fish is likely to contain more proteins and healthy fats than a similar serving of farmed fish.”
Guyana experimented with aquaculture in the 1940s with Mozambique tilapia that was reared in irrigated rice fields, or in flooded sugar cane fields. That experiment failed. There was renewed interest in the 1970s when the Department of Fisheries, IDRC (International Development Research Center) and GUYSUCO conducted a joint venture with the rearing of the Nile tilapia. This tilapia variety was supposed to alternate with indigenous species of armored catfish. That project failed because of management and human resources deficit.
In the 1990s, the PPPC government was aware that the demand for captured (marine) fish could not meet existing local consumers’ demand. It was learnt later in 1999 that fish consumption was 58.7 kg per capita. Accordingly, an Action Plan was prepared in 1994 with CIDA’s assistance and this was supported by the FAO specialist for the government to establish a freshwater fish farming station.
Thus, the Mon Repos Freshwater Aquaculture Demonstration Farm and Training Center was set up in 2001 at a cost of $(US) 1.2 million, in response to the recommendations of the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization), IDRC and CIDA (Canadian International Development Agency). While policy makers were looking at value added products for the sugar industry and to diversify GUYSUCO’s operations, the aquaculture initiative failed because the PPPC government’s approach has been that it should be a project to be conducted by private enterprise with the government acting as a facilitator. To have GUYSUCO, a quasi-government unit, to become involved again in aquaculture will collide with this policy position.
To even think of converting some of GUYSUCO’s lands, as part of the diversification process, into rice cultivation is mind-boggling. Rice cultivation is handled exceptionally well by private farmers. GUYSUCO should stay out of the rice industry. To the extent that GUYSUCO has unused lands, those could be allocated to the government’s housing programme. Both aquaculture and rice cultivation are not needed within the diversification process of GUYSUCO. What is urgently needed in GUYSUCO is for it to clean up its management structure and introduce fiscal discipline.
Dr. Tara Singh
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