Sustainable Agriculture and Food Security in Guyana
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Mr. C. Kenrick Hunte, in his letter published on October 23, 2011 in Stabroek News (SN), titled “The evidence shows that Guyana is becoming more dependent on imported food”, has negatively positioned the recently launched Guyana Food and Nutrition Security Strategy. Mr. Hunte, we must remind you that these are challenging times for every country in the world and, at the same time, Guyana is the only English speaking country in the Caribbean Community that has been declared a Food Secure Nation. The evidence is clear and the Government of Guyana’s track record in developing and transforming traditional agriculture is stated globally by the international community. Hence, Guyana achieved the Millennium Development Goal of halving the number of people in extreme hunger. This is a fitting tribute to farmers, processors, exporters and others in the agriculture industry. This country has a key role to play, that of not only meeting its own needs, but also the needs of the Caribbean region, because of its natural endowment of abundant land and water and the government’s unremitting support for the sector.
Therefore, the challenge facing us and the world is the creation of sustainable food production systems. We have to maintain a supply of healthy food at affordable prices when there is mounting pressure on nearly every element affecting the process, with the devastating effects of climate change taking the greatest toll.
The Guyana Food and Nutrition Security Strategy 2011-2020 was developed, and some aspects of implementation has begun, and is aimed at improving the health and well-being of all persons living in Guyana through enhanced food and nutrition security.  In developing and implementing policies and programmes to achieve this overall goal, measures and actions that will impact the entire population will continue to be taken, but the primary concern will be with those sections of the population that live in poverty and are considered particularly vulnerable to food and nutrition insecurity.
Goal one of the Strategy is to facilitate sustainable and stable employment-generating opportunities that would increase the availability of and accessibility to food, especially among the most vulnerable groups. Goal Two of the strategy is meant to promote information, education and communication/dissemination systems for use, and consumption of healthy foods for improved nutrition for Guyanese; and especially for vulnerable groups. Goal Three will see the promotion of increased institutional coordination and functioning for improved food and nutrition security.
Further, the Government of Guyana, through the Ministry of Agriculture, has undertaken many initiatives over the last decade to ensure that Guyana is on a sustainable path of being food secure and to combat the effects of rising food prices on the local population.  One such initiative is the “Grow More Food” campaign.  The key objective of the Grow More Food Campaign, firstly, is to combat the effects of the global increases in food prices and, secondly, to ensure that Guyanese have adequate food available for themselves and for export. Within the framework of the Grow More Food Campaign – In a Climate Smart Way, the Ministry of Agriculture, supported by multilateral and regional partners, has undertaken several projects to enhance agricultural productivity, growth and sustainability, and to ensure that enough nutritious food is available for local and overseas consumption.  These include the:
* Rural Enterprise and Development Project (READ) – US$ 6M IFAD-funded
This project aims at strengthening intermediary service providers, institutions whose services add value to production and marketing systems and improve rural welfare. The key aspects of the project include working with rural communities to build their capacity to capitalize on market opportunities so as to improve the livelihood of vulnerability.
* Agricultural Export Diversification Programme (ADP) – US$ 21.9M IDB-funded
The project aims at establishing services and institutions for a sustainable increase in the income derived from the export of non-traditional agricultural exports in aquaculture, fruits and vegetables, and livestock subsectors. Focusing on developing commodity chains on the nontraditional agricultural products through the value chain approach is a critical aspect for reducing Guyana’s export growth rate volatility.
* Increased investment in Drainage and Irrigation
Restoring drainage to areas abandoned by farmers
Over the last two years more than $5B has been spent, training farmers to manage the maintenance of rehabilitated structures and systems through Water Users Associations.
* Enhanced Extension Services
The extension service has been revamped to enhance its service to the farmers and through acquisition of vehicles, more qualified officers from Cuba and other Agricultural institutions, and training for all of the Ministry of Agriculture’s staff. They are more capable to respond to farmers needs and bridge the gap between farming and transfer of technology.
* Increased availability of seed and planting materials
The increased availability of seed and planting materials and improved livestock breeds have led to the increase of food availability both for local consumption and for export.
* Enhanced cooperation
Cooperation between semi-autonomous agencies of the Ministry of Agriculture and the Guyana Lands and Survey Commission, regarding land availability, allocation and tenure for agricultural purposes.
In order to ensure that agricultural growth is sustainable and proactive, various policy and legislative measures were enacted. A climate-smart agriculture which deals with the effects of the changing weather patterns is one such policy mechanism. Within the climate-smart agriculture policy, food security and climate change issues are addressed together by transforming agriculture and adopting practices that are “climate-smart”. A number of production systems are already being used by farmers and food producers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, adapt to climate change, and reduce vulnerability to climate change and to ensure that local agricultural outputs are available to all sections of the local population.
Three agricultural legislations were passed in parliament to facilitate agricultural production and export diversification. These are the Plant Health Act, Animal Health Act and the Seed Act. These acts have now been passed, assented to by the President and have come into force on September 1, 2011. These legislations will allow for an effective reform and modernization of the overall agriculture sector in Guyana. Other measures which have been implemented to ensure that Guyana is on a sustainable path of being food secure include, zero-rated valued added tax on some basic commodities, removal of barriers to trade, and improved hinterland agricultural development.
Therefore, when we talk about agriculture and food production, we are talking about a complex and interrelated system and it is simply not possible to single out just one objective, like maximizing production, without also ensuring that the system which delivers those increased yields meets society’s other needs. We include the maintenance of public health, the safeguarding of rural employment, the protection of the environment and contributing to overall quality of life. We have repeatedly diagnosed and agreed on critical solutions to address the vulnerability of our country to high food prices.  These are well-known to the critical stakeholders.
Now we have the unwavering political will and bold action from the entire nation to be better prepared to grasp with the current food price situation and take the nation’s agriculture to the required and desired level of sustainable food security.

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