By Shirley Thomas
AGRICULTURE Minister Noel Holder sees agriculture as having the potential to effectively tackle the near 40 per cent youth unemployment rate in Guyana, which is soaring 15% above other Caribbean countries; and the regional food import bill of US$4 billion.“In tackling the high unemployment rate and other problems faced by Guyanese youths, a booming agricultural sector provides a ready opportunity,” Minister Holder said on Thursday as he delivered the feature address at a two-day Regional Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO/IFAD)-sponsored Participatory Workshop for Youths at the Carifesta Sports Complex Facility on Carifesta Avenue in Georgetown.
The theme of the workshop, which concluded on Friday, was “Strengthening decent rural employment opportunities for young women and men in the Caribbean.”
In this regard, the importance of Guyana’s agricultural industry cannot be overstated, he said, as the sector contributes significantly to the economy with 20% to GDP, 33% to employment and 40% to export earnings.
The objective of the workshop was to gather in-depth information from rural youth representatives from different organizations, groups and relevant sectors on the situation of rural youth; access opportunities and demands for employment, self-employment and other economic activities in Guyana. In short, it served to generate inputs that will allow characterizing the situation of youth in terms of decent rural employment, analyzing the constraints and opportunities.
This approach will pave the way for the preparation of a National Profile of Rural Employment and Youth in Guyana as part of the project activities under the regional project, FAO/IFAD Youth Focal Point, Christopher Ross said.
Noting that youth and development are tied together, and that young men and women form the grassroots of civil society network, Minister Holder said it is essential that youths be involved in the decision making forma.
Some of the variables the minister identified as exacerbating the agriculture issues in the Caribbean include:
* The aging farmer population,
* Agriculture appears to be of little attraction to youths, and in some respect is unpopular, rigid and archaic
* Regional food imports replacing or displacing local agriculture food production to the extent that the regional food import bill now stands at US$ 4 Billion.
Minister Holder posited that the development of agriculture is a potential avenue out of the economic downturn. At the same time, he addressed some of issues alluded to.
Observing that for the industry to attain sustainability it must address the aging population, the Minister noted that, in Guyana, the average age at which persons take to farming is between 50 and 60 years. Hence it would appear that the farming population is gradually becoming less robust.
To this end, given the regional and local scenarios, Minister Holder is of the view that young people can bring the vigour, innovation, capability and skills needed to enhance agricultural resources in the sector.
He said that, under the project, our young farmers will gain access to not only grants, but also the agricultural knowledge and best practices accumulated across the Caribbean Region.
Minister Holder spoke about agriculture having become more scientific and technologically advanced, making the point that countries such as Guyana need to carry out more research and development to adapt to the growing competitiveness on the international market.
“This FAO/IFD project provides a timely opportunity, as agricultural knowledge and best practices accumulated across the Caribbean will be made available to our youths,” he assured.
The minister noted, too, that Guyana holds an agricultural system that is replete with opportunities, and he cited educational institutions such as the Guyana School of Agriculture, Port Mourant Apprentice Training Centre and the University of Guyana’s Faculty of Agriculture.
“We can accomplish much through support and training, including scholarships in agriculture or business development skills,” he said, adding that agriculture must be viewed as a profitable business rather than purely for subsistence. Embracing this is key to revitalizing agriculture in Guyana and the CARICOM Region, he said.
The Participatory Workshop Project, he said, is just one of the many initiatives that the government has planned for the social and economic upliftment of young people.
“Young people are our future leaders, a future manpower resource that will continue to drive and propel our economy.
Young people are a big part of our plans, and this will remain so,” Minister Holder concluded.
Also addressing the participants at the workshop were: FAO Representative in Guyana, Mr. Reuben Robertson; and Presidential Advisor on Youth Empowerment, (OP), Mr. Aubrey Norton; Ms. Alda Berardinelli of PROCASUR Corporation presented an overview of the workshop.