Answering the call to grow food

Diana Persaud from Arya's Fresh Cut

– how agriculture is attracting more young Guyanese

By Ravena Gildharie
TRADITION has it that agriculture is laborious work and appears less attractive to young people. However, with modern technology and techniques, a new trend of young farmers is

Technologies are making farming easier for young generations

gaining momentum countrywide. More young people are turning to food production as a serious business that assures self-employment, profitability and extensive opportunities for their socio-economic wellbeing.

At age 17, Fawaz Mohib of Bath Settlement, West Coast Berbice, is highly enthusiastic about his cultivation of hot and sweet peppers, which he grows along with his father. They sell to residents and nearby markets.
A current student of the Government Technical Institute, Mohib attends to his two-acre plot almost daily in the afternoons after classes. Though he acknowledged that the frequent weeding, spraying and harvesting can be hard work, the young farmer stressed that “once you put your mind to it, the work is not hard and then you begin to see potential and can look toward the profits.”

Food security is becoming more important to youth

Mohib is also part of a farmers’ group in his community along with several other young men who are mostly involved in cash crop production. While his farming is on the traditional open plots, some of the other young men are growing with shaded-culture. They are focused on the production of tomatoes, lettuce, celery and sweet peppers.

The farmers’ group was founded by Dhaniram Ramchand, a more experienced farmer who took up agriculture as a full-time business when he was 23 years old. He started with a kitchen garden in his backyard, as a venture to earn “side income.” Today, he is one of the largest farmers using greenhouse technology to grow lettuce, bell peppers, celery, eschalot, tomatoes, parsley and others crops. He supplies Massy Supermarket, D. Singh and Sons and will soon be selling to Pizza Hut.

Modern farming technologies are attracting more youth

“Agriculture is a lucrative business once it is done right and once you are serious about it,” Ramchand told the Pepperpot Magazine. He was once an extension agent with the National Agricultural Research and Extension Institute (NAREI) and also worked on a USAID Project that introduced local farmers to green/shade houses and drip irrigation as technologies to produce food year-round amidst changing climate.

He believes that it was these technologies that revolutionised agriculture in Guyana and has been drawing young farmers to the land.

He noted too that support and technical services have been greatly enhanced through both state and non-state agencies to support young farmers. These include NAREI, the Ministry of Agriculture and various projects funded by international donor partners such as the $20 million Canada-funded Caribbean Regional Promotion of Regional Opportunities for Produce through Enterprises and Linkages (PROPEL). Under this initiative, onions and Irish potatoes are being grown on trial in West Coast Berbice and other areas.

More youth are showing growing interest in farming

Ramchand stated: “these are things that we should be excited about, and which I think are opportunities for young farmers. We still have a high importation bill…we import large quantities of onions from Barbados and elsewhere, but here now is an opportunity for our local young farmers to grow this produce at the same quality as that which is being imported, and they can supply the supermarkets.”

Funding support for farming is often difficult to access since agriculture is considered a risky business for financial institutions, creditors and even some small lending agencies. However, Ramchand said he has seen many farmers getting support from the Institute of Private Enterprise Development (IPED) and Small Business Bureau, which assists in funding shade house and other climate-smart agriculture ventures.

Bath Settlement farmer Dhaniram Ramchand engages NAREI Officer

Funding for large-scale agriculture is not as favourable, though there were once national discussions on agricultural insurance in Guyana. Most big agriculture ventures are self-funded and therefore many young farmers are forced to use their own profits to expand.
To 27-year-old Ameer Ahmad of Hague, West Coast Demerara, “agriculture is like any other business where you have to look at the cost of production, demands and markets to ensure profitability.” Fluctuating prices, pests and diseases and adverse weather conditions are still some of his main challenges, but he remains a dedicated food producer.

For him, farming is better than being employed elsewhere and receiving a meager salary for hard and long hours of work with limited scope for upgrade.

He turned to farming when he was 21 years old, growing cash crops which he sells at the Leonora market. Prior to that, he was employed by a business in Bourda and had to travel every day to the city, leaving him with little to no income at the end of each month.

Young farmer Ameer Ahmad tending to his crops

As a farmer, he secured a small grant through the Guyana Agricultural Producers Association (GAPA) to set up a shade house equipped with drip irrigation. That venture changed his life and today he is one of the most successful young farmers, still expanding.
He enjoys the comfort of being self-employed and doesn’t see farming as hard work. “Modern technology is making farming much, much easier and less time consuming so once you learn how to manage your farm, you can live comfortably,” the young farmer told this publication.

A young couple, Aditya and Diana Persaud are owners of Arya’s Fresh Cut, an agro-producing and packaging business. They started in 2014 and currently grow crops as mint, kale, parsley, cilantro, sijan (moringa), butternut squash, Armenian cucumbers, lettuce, pok-choi, oregano, etc. They also buy from local farmers that are certified with export quality. Arya’s branded products are available at local supermarkets.

A group of young people on tour at a Bath Settlement farm

“The operations are flowing smoothly and have the ability to scale up, however, one main challenge is access to arable land to grow these high-quality vegetables, .as well as producing these non-traditional/foreign vegetables,” Aditya explained. He noted the weather too as another constraint that affects both quality and quantities but assured that as young farmers, they “strive to keep our gears in motion to ensure they are back on the shelves in a timely manner.”

He added “we recognise that fruit and vegetable production and consumption in Guyana and the Caribbean region have shown a marked upward trend over the past several years. Rising consumer demand in Guyana has come with a greater awareness of food safety issues and increased need for convenience and quality. ARYA’s Fresh Co fresh-cut produce was established to respond to these demands, and is currently at different stages of development at each individual process.”

The couple continues to reach out and engage other young producers and processors by sharing their experience and knowledge.