Aquaculture takes centre stage at Fisherfolk Day observances

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DURING formal observances of Fisherfolk  Day yesterday, the focus was on aquaculture, with  Minister of Agriculture Robert Persaud touring farms in Region 5 (Mahaica/Berbice), acknowledging the invaluable technical support of  the United States and United Kingdom Governments for the sector, and revealing government’s plans to pump $120M into it this year, as  part of the ongoing agricultural diversification programme.
The main event was held at the Onverwagt Aqua Ranch at Onverwagt, West Coast Berbice, under the theme : “Towards a sustainable Fishing Industry”
The programme there  comprised a feature address by  Minister Persaud  and included remarks by British High Commissioner H.E. Bond; United States Agency for International Development (USAID) official Ms. Carol  Horning; Managing Director of Onverwagt Aqua Ranch Andre Poonai;  and Cluster Manager Aquaculture Mr. Tejnarine Geer.
Both  High Commissioner  Bond and USAID Official Horning spoke of the great potential of aquaculture for commercial purposes in both the local and external markets.
Bond highlighted the support given by United Kingdom Department for International Development  (DFID) for aquaculture in Guyana and said he was pleased to see that the sector was gaining momentum.
Ms. Horning disclosed that the USAID, the foreign assistance arm of the United States Government,  in collaboration with  Guyana Trade and Investment Support agency, had spent  some US$1.8M to help develop aquaculture in Guyana over the past six years.
USAID support has included reduction of airfreight costs for tilapia exports by 47%; establishing the first commercial hatchery  in Guyana; and the development of high-quality  fish feed  and test shipments  of tilapia to overseas markets.
Both Bond and Horner promised continued support for the sector as a means of pushing its development, while at the same time improving the quality of life of the people in it.
Minister Persaud thanked  both Mr. Bond and Ms. Horner as representatives of  their respective governments   for the contributions to the sector which he said  “have been  tremendous , useful and timely.”
He, like the other speakers,  identified aquaculture as a new growth area in food production, which has tremendous potential.
He then disclosed  that government will commence  a financial support programme  for the aquaculture sector involving  $100M to be made available to investors in the form of a  soft credit.
The facility will be made available through the Guyana Bank of Trade and Industry (GBTI) and will see aquaculture investors receiving financial support  in this regard.

He said that Government  had also put aside  $20M which will be made available as a grant to give  additional support to these investors, making a total commitment of $120M to aquaculture.
This assistance will be additional to other forms of support given to the sector by government which includes free excavation of fish ponds following a promise made by President Bharat Jagdeo during a meeting with fishermen on Fisherfolk Day in 2010.
This support, excavation of ponds free of cost, will also be extended to aquaculture farmers in Regions 1, 3, 4, 9 and 10, to encourage aquaculture  in these coastal and hinterland regions.
The Government also intends to work with stakeholders to establish five hatcheries for fingerlings in five administrative regions so that there can be  adequate amounts of fingerlings for production.
Minister Persaud urged farmers to join the bandwagon of agricultural diversification and benefit from it.
The formal observances had been preceded by visits to an aquaculture farm at Drill Turn, Mahaicony, the burgeoning Trafalgar Union Community Development Council  (CDC) farm at Trafalgar and the Aqua Ranch at Onverwagt.