Oct 23, 2021 Letters
Permit me the space to respond to the editorial published in the Friday, October 15, 2020 edition of the Stabroek Business titled “Agriculture: More Rhetoric.” The editorial provides an additional opportunity for conversation on the ever-important topic of agriculture in Guyana. The Ministry of Agriculture, of course, welcomes every opportunity to be part of this conversation.
Editor, since August of 2020, under the energetic leadership of H.E. President Ali in the capacity of Lead Head on Agriculture in the CARICOM Quasi Cabinet, collective regional awareness of the importance of Food and Nutrition Security has been significantly heightened. Preceding that period, Guyana’s lead responsibility for Agriculture, Agricultural Diversification and Food Security in the Caribbean Community had all but been relinquished.
In February of this year, in the capacity of Lead Head on Agriculture for the Region, President Ali presented the paper titled “Advancing the CARICOM Agri-Food Systems Agenda: Prioritising Regional Food and Nutrition Security” to the CARICOM Heads of Government. This paper outlined a logical approach and pragmatic programme towards the transformation of the regional food systems and indeed in realistically meeting the goal of reducing the food import bill by 25% by 2025that the region has set itself.
Arising out of this process, a Special Ministerial Taskforce on Food Production and Food Security was established and is being ably led by Guyana’s Agriculture Minister, the Honourable Zulfikar Mustapha. The resuscitation of the Regional Transport Commission and the de-risking of agriculture are two of the critical areas being addressed currently by the Special Ministerial Taskforce.
Even in the face of the current pandemic, substantial collective efforts were invested in hosting the annual Caribbean Week of Agriculture (CWA) 2021 during the week of October 4-8, under the theme ‘Transforming Our Food Systems.’ In his keynote address during the launch of this year’s CWA, President Ali reiterated the point that Guyana takes its role as Lead Head on Agriculture seriously and that Agriculture is of primary importance to Guyana and the Region. During the very week, the Caribbean AgTech Investment Summit was also hosted by the Caribbean Export Development Agency and again our Head of State delivered a scintillating keynote address.
Guyana’s current efforts for addressing the burgeoning regional food import bill are being undertaken in an integrated manner. Guyana being the largest of the Member States of CARICOM, sees the food import bill as an opportunity for its agricultural producers, to replace a significant proportion of the regional food imports. To this end, the Government of Guyana has been actively pursuing strategic investments to support this vision. To support its production intensification and investment programme in the sector, Guyana in 2021 allocated an initial G$500 million to commence infrastructural works in the area earmarked for the cultivation of corn and soya bean by a consortium of private sector investors. This investment will serve as a major input source for the feed processing sector and will significantly benefit the livestock sector.
The PPP government has always recognised the strategic importance of having agriculture as a robust and competitive tradable sector, in counteracting the paradoxical effects of huge natural resource discoveries. In this regard, the government has been working assiduously towards attracting sustainable Foreign Direct Investments into the sector, while at the same time, developing an enabling environment necessary for the sector to thrive. For instance, in the poultry sector, which is being targeted as a key regional import-replacement sector, government support is being rolled out in the following ways:
• Zero-rating of VAT on the Poultry Industry – VAT free concessions on items imported for the development of the poultry industry.
• Freshwater supply and available lands accessible by a network of roads and waterways.
• Concessions for developing lands (Intermediate Savannah).
• Tax concessions on Investment in Agro-processing Facilities, Cold Storage and Packaging.
• Waivers of Import Duty and VAT on agro-processing equipment.
• Enhanced Technical/Extension support provided via Guyana Livestock Development Agency and the Ministry of Agriculture.
• The Food Safety Authority is being established and being made will be fully operational.
Only recently, the National Agricultural Research and Extension Institute (NAREI) collaborated with the Guyana Food Safety Authority in the preparation of the “Fruits and Vegetables” Booklet focusing on sanitary and food safety aspects. The booklet which was launched on the 20th of October, 2021, serves as a useful tool for extension officers and farmers alike towards ensuring safe and wholesome food are grown locally and for the region. The preparation and launch of this booklet to coincide with observances taking place throughout 2021 which is being observed as the International Year of Fruits and Vegetables, was deliberate.
In all of this it should be noted that, prior to August of 2020, many persons who were involved in agriculture had either scaled down their operations or left the sector altogether. Today, because of the numerous investments the government has made, there is a notable renewed interest in the sector. Both local and international individuals and companies are lining up to invest in this very promising sector.
Finally, the Ministry of Agriculture through its various affiliated agencies continue to play a crucial role in supporting the agriculture sector, and in supporting Guyana’s regional role as Lead Head in agriculture.
Guyana continues to lead the region strongly in the production of rice, which is an important staple food throughout the Caribbean. Currently, the Guyana Rice Development Board (GRDB) is undertaking trials towards the development of Biofortified Rice with Zinc for the Caribbean Community. The GRDB is also playing a lead role in the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) led Regional Project to address Dietary and Non-Communicable Diseases in CARICOM through the Introduction of Biofortified Crops. Trials are currently being undertaken by the GRDB and preliminary results appear very encouraging.
The Ministry of Agriculture through the Guyana Livestock Development Authority (GLDA) has been very active in providing the necessary support to the livestock sector. Over G$1.1B was allocated to assist the livestock farmers affected by the recent floods in the main farming districts to resuscitate the livestock sector. Of the 9,216 farmers registered to date, 4,787 received or will receive cash grants valued at G$545M. Currently, preparatory works for the establishment of a certified swine abattoir are ongoing. This development along with the recently GYS 170:2009 Standard certified Veterinary Services Laboratory, will serve to significantly enhance the sector’s ability to bring market-safe and higher quality livestock products.
Significant resources have been expended through NAREI to the tune of some $602.8 million at the end of June this year, to further diversify Guyana’s production base and ensure food security. NAREI also provided technical assistance to farmers for the construction of 97 shade houses in all regions across the country, five of which were constructed for demonstration purposes. Additionally, with the continued push for fruit cultivation, the agency made available hundreds of low-cost seedlings at all NAREI nurseries with 54,915 plants sold for some $13.7 million. During the review period, it was discovered that technical support was also provided to 16,284 farmers. Also, as part of the diversification of the agriculture production base, an injection of $70 million was made to promote the expansion, inter-cropping, utilisation of coconut by-products and to increase production and productivity of the Hope Coconut Industry Limited.
To support Guyana’s expansion of agriculture into the intermediate savannah, 18.5 kilometers of road was tendered for construction through the National Drainage and Irrigation Authority (NDIA). This initiative will strongly support the planned cultivation of large-scale corn and soya. Additionally, the NDIA, in July 2021 commissioned seven new machines that will add capacity to the current fleet of 169 heavy-duty machines among other initiatives.
Editor, hopefully, this letter serves to indicate the managerial, administrative and coordinating efforts the Ministry of Agriculture is involved in, in supporting the advancement of the agriculture sector. The work of the Ministry of Agriculture and its agencies continue to be critical in ensuring Food and Nutrition Security for the nation, and importantly, in promoting a robust, competitive and sustainable agriculture sector.
Public Relations Officer,
Ministry of Agriculture
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