Op-Ed | Agro-processing transforming the agricultural sector

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By Margaret Burke

AGRICULTURE is a vast sector, which continues to grow and expand in Guyana. The country possesses land that is bursting with the richness of natural agricultural potential; highly fertile and ready to give rise to whatever she receives. Other than on the coastland and hinterland, the country still has expanses of virgin land. However, with help and directions from the APNU+AFC government, farmers are not just returning to the land, they are looking to expand. At the same time, many of them are showing tremendous interest in learning the new methods and techniques, that the government is making available to them. This is an effort to help enhance their production and yielding capacity.

A priority for this APNU+AFC coalition government is a policy to transform the economy, producing more jobs and bringing a better life for people. For this reason, this government, through the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) has continued to make every effort to ensure that much emphasis is placed on this sector, especially in relation to training and development of the agro-processing industry, which now forms a significant aspect of agriculture in general.

In fact, in 2018 the New GMC reported an 18 per cent increase in exports when compared to the corresponding period of 2017. The agency stated that record levels of increase in the quantity of non-traditional agricultural commodities have been processed at their facilities for export to countries such as Antigua, Barbados, St. Kitts, St. Maarten, Trinidad and Tobago, Canada and the United States of America (USA). The main facilities being used for the preparation of the commodities for export are the Central Packaging Facility at Sophia and the Parika Agro-processing packaging facility at Parika.

Training and development
The government is very deliberate in its effort to diversify and raise the levels of farmers’ enthusiasm in Guyana. While agro-processing is not quite a new area in this country, it is now gaining momentum. It speaks to the manufacturing that processes agricultural raw materials of every kind, including forestry, livestock and seafood products. At the same time this sector is geared to add value through the various processes that facilitate the transformation of original, raw agricultural products to jams, jellies, pepper and other sauces, ham and sausages, pickled meats and many more.

Training and development are now systematically being done by the Ministry of Agriculture. This ministry is supported by the New GMC, the Guyana School of Agriculture (GSA), the National Agricultural Research and Extension Institute (NAREI), as well as the Guyana Livestock Development Authority (GLDA).

GMC advancing the cause
However, the New GMC, which is a semi-autonomous agency under the Ministry of Agriculture, has not only been given the responsibility to promote the development and exportation of non-traditional agricultural commodities; it also plays a pivotal role in training farmers, agro-processors and exporters of agricultural products across Guyana, providing a wide range of training programmes. These include training in cost of production, marketing strategy, post-harvest management, jam-making and seasoning, business accounting for agro-processors and farmers, packaging and labelling, agri-business development, marketing, and of course agro-processing.

These training sessions have been done in almost all of the 10 administrative regions of Guyana, and GMC states that they have additional training planned for Agriculture Month in October.

The New GMC has explained that their main aim is to give technical guidance to agro-processors. At the same time they plan to further aid in their development, as well as that of every farmer and even potential farmer. In so doing, the GMC collaborates with other government and international agencies in an effort to get specialist assistance and be able to offer the best to these farmers.

Women in agro-processing
The Women Agro-processors Development Network (WADNET) is made up of some 11 community-based groups of women and continues to grow, since many more women are expressing interest. Though the majority of the groups are from the hinterland, others are spread along the Soesdyke /Linden Highway, in Region Four and in Region Five on the West Coast of Berbice.

WADNET’s support comes directly from government – the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) and local agencies that collaborate with it. These include the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), which has been offering tremendous support. Although the group has been around for about nine years, over the past four years, with help from the New GMC a remarkable amount of work has been done to facilitate training and providing many needed resources to encourage them along.

The groups within the network have so far been able to secure local and international markets, with prospects being great for the rest of 2019 and even better in 2020. Many of the groups are involved in the processing of raw agricultural materials a variety of hot peppers, seasonings, peanuts, fruits, cassava, coconuts, forestry products and even traditional medicines into value-added products.

Many jobs are being created out of this particular adventure. As a group, WADNET members have been able to generate income for themselves. They continue to make use of some of the raw materials, while adding value to the rest. Additionally, they are also contributing to employment for other farmers, who are encouraged to cultivate additional, raw produce, which is purchased and utilised for agro-processing.

The GMC also held training sessions with women from the Coomacka mines in agro-processing. They recently visited the area and were told by the women that because of the training they are now in the process of making better labels and their mixes are better. The GMC was happy to report that these ladies spoke of the great response they now receive from customers.

The same types of sensitisation sessions were also done in Region Five and also at the Belladrum Shade House Group on the West Coast of Berbice. Groups in Region Nine received assistance with packaging materials such as bottling, as well as the designing of their labels for display.

RAID
The Rural Infrastructural Development Project (RAID) is a multi-million dollar project under the arm of the MoA, and in collaboration with the New GMC, training in capacity-building was done for farmers in the four rural communities. These communities included Buxton, Mocha-Arcadia, Ithaca, and Beterverwagting/Triumph.  The Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), facilitated the training sessions with farmers. Many sessions were also done at Victoria Village, East Coast Demerara.

The Guyana Marketing Corporation has committed to facilitate further training in these communities to provide the necessary guidance farmers need to be successful in the farming and agro-processing industry.

GSA
Agro-processing training at the Guyana School of Agriculture (GSA) is also experiencing rapid growth. Earlier this year the school proudly displayed many new products. These products are all set for local and international markets. The GSA noted that this year’s agro-processing programme was the largest in the history of the institution. Many outstanding students graduated from this programme, making names for themselves with the products they produced. Some of them have even had their products launched on the local market with help from New Guyana Marketing Corporation.

Over four short years the government of the APNU+AFC coalition has shown what can be done with agriculture – just one main sector of this great country. Much effort was put into the work already done, while there are plans to do far more. Also of reality is the fact that many farmers have now felt an awakening and are now ready and rearing to get on with it.