Agro-processing is key to national food security

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FOR many years, it has been said that Guyana has the potential to feed, not only all of her citizens, but also the islands in the Caribbean Region. The Government of Guyana has always believed in this potential, investing heavily in the agricultural industry which helped to fund the first 150 years of development in this nation.

Ms. Grace Paris, Manager of the Agro-Processing Facility at the Guyana School of Agriculture.

Even as Guyana stands on the cusp of the country’s newest endeavour, the establishment of an oil and gas sector, the Government’s view of agriculture as a national economic cornerstone has not changed. This edition of Government in Action, is in honour of National Agriculture Month, which is observed in October and seeks to explore the steps taken to solidify Guyana’s place as the breadbasket of the Caribbean.

Food Security
On October 11th this year, the Ministry of Agriculture held its annual National Tree Day activity in No. 53 Village, East Berbice-Corentyne (Region Six). While there, President David Granger expressed his unwavering belief in the Region’s potential, which he said could be the key to guaranteed food security in Guyana.

“Food security is a situation when everybody at all times can have physical, social, economic access to sufficient safe and nutritious food. Food which meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life. This means that food must be available and food must be available in sufficient quantities and it must be accessible to everyone, not just rich people, but everyone… I’ve long held the view that East Berbice-Corentyne has the land, it has the expertise, and the experience to guarantee Guyana’s food security and to make its residents prosperous. It can even guarantee the food security of the Eastern Caribbean,” the Head of State said.

Recent Guyana School of Agriculture graduate, Ms. Kelshine Griffith, who now owns Shine Agri Manufacturing, stands beside a display of her pilot agro-processing product, boxed Sweet Potato Cake Mix.

The President also said that while Guyana enjoys a certain level of food security, there still remains spots of insufficient security throughout the country. A robust agro-processing industry, he said, is the key to addressing these deficiencies.

“Guyana exported fruit and vegetables worth $8M US dollars last year. That is not much. That is way below our potential. The economists calculate that if we had a more robust programme for agro-processing, we could export $250M US dollars-worth of agricultural produce… That is what we’re talking about when we’re talking about trees and agro-processing. We’re talking about a new chapter in our economy, in our hinterland and rural village economy. We can go more robustly into the packaging and bottling of food and drink using modern equipment on a large scale and that is one of the elements in our policy to ensure food security, of reducing food imports and increasing exports,” he said.

The Head of State also assured those present that Agriculture will not take a back seat once Guyana’s oil and gas sector emerges.

“We will launch a ‘Decade of Development’ from 2020 to 2029… I’ll be here to make sure that this decade of development is launched because agro-processing is a key part of that decade and the Green State Development Strategy is a key component of that decade. That strategy is a road map for making Guyana a ‘green’ State, but it is also our road map to food security,” he said.

World Food Day
Minister of Agriculture, Mr. Noel Holder is using this year’s observance to assure Guyanese that his Ministry is committed to food safety and security in Guyana. In his message to the nation, the Minister highlighted his Ministry’s focus on food security to promote healthy diets.

President David Granger plants a tree at the Union Sports and Culture Complex, No. 53 Village, Corentyne, East Berbice-Corentyne Region

“We will join the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organisation on October 16 to celebrate World Food Day under the theme, ‘Our Actions are our future, Healthy Diets for a #ZeroHungerWorld,’ at the La Bonne Intention (LBI) Agricultural Complex… We will reinforce our commitment to ‘Safe food and healthy diets’. The importance of food safety in achieving better human nutrition through healthy nutritious diets cannot be reiterated enough. For healthy diets we must improve food safety… A paradigm shift in the approach to food safety is required starting from our farms and ending at the dining table,” the Minister said.

Subsequently, during his welcome address at the Ministry’s World Food Day Exhibition held at LBI on October 16th, Minister Holder said that once all Guyanese can access healthy food options, public health should significantly improve.

“We reinforce our commitment to safe food and healthy diets. Guyana is a food secure country but there are pockets of food insecurity and hunger that we need to address. Additionally, given the significant amount spent annually on health problems related to malnutrition, strategies and policies to ensure the availability and affordability of healthy diets are essential for the food and nutrition security of our citizens,” he said.

President David Granger receives a tree from Minister of Agriculture, Mr. Noel Holder. Also photographed is Mrs. Kim Williams-Stephens, Regional Executive Officer (REO) East Berbice-Corentyne.

The Guyana School of Agriculture (GSA)
The Guyana School of Agriculture (GSA) has been producing agricultural professionals since 1963. The school now places significant emphasis on agro-processing which encourages students to create food products from locally grown produce. Manager of the Agro-Processing Facility, Ms. Grace Paris explains.

“Agro-processing is what I would call the value added… industry. For too long we in Guyana have been… exporting fresh [produce]… Rice straight out of the field… Sugar, same thing. I think It’s time that we start to add value… When you start adding value, you have a bigger market place for a longer time. That product can sit on the shelf for a year or two years… So, you don’t have to be held at ransom to get your product off… the shelves because it is fresh… Guyanese have a lot of talent. Even pepper… there is a wide variety of pepper sauce and [they] all taste good. That is just one raw material, pepper. We can expand that to so many other things. So, why not,” she said.

Ms. Paris also explained the benefits of buying local.

“I think we have to prove, and we have proven that our products are just as good or even better than the foreign branded ones… I do not know how that [negative] stigma came about… We keep on telling people that this is locally grown. It doesn’t have any preservatives. It doesn’t have any additives and we are accustomed to it,” she said.

Ms. Paris added, “Overseas people are wanting our products. So, why can’t we, at home, utilise what we have already, right here, right now, locally grown. You are boosting your own economy. You are encouraging your farmers to work and you are adding value to products that can sit on a shelf in a supermarket for as long as you want… I encourage our Guyanese brothers and sisters to try our local products. They will be surprised.”

Recent graduate, Ms. Kelshine Griffith, who now owns Shine Agri Manufacturing, attended the food exhibition to display her pilot agro-processing product, boxed Sweet Potato Cake Mix. Ms. Griffith recounted her time at the GSA.

“My time at the Guyana School of Agriculture was very interesting… It was very challenging as well, but I was able to graduate with the help of everyone there… I always [knew] I wanted to be my own boss, but… in 2016 I did a crash course [by] the Government at the Guyana School of Agriculture and there is where my eyes [were] opened. I applied… I’ve graduated… Now I’m working on my own business in the line of agro-processing,” Ms. Griffith said.

The young entrepreneur said that it was the GSA’s curriculum that inspired her to create the cake mix.

“Once you’re enrolled at GSA doing the agro-processing course, you’re tasked with creating a product that is 100 per cent Guyanese and that is not yet on the market… I always loved cake, but… I know we have a high percentage of imports of cake mix. So… my focus was to create something that can help eliminate or cut down the imports to some extent and also offer something that is healthier,” she said.

The Ministry of Agriculture’s calendar of events for National Agriculture Month has a wide range of activities, from farmers’ markets to pesticide awareness sessions. Agriculture is on the rise. The industry is being modernised and expanded to create the kind of products that will adequately feed and bring in the quantum of revenue that is needed to develop our nation.

The Government of Guyana is committed to fostering a food-secure environment where products are made for Guyanese with produce grown right here in Guyana.