–more lands to be opened for cultivation, livestock-rearing
CULTIVATING a productive and lucrative agricultural sector has been at the forefront of the new government’s agenda, with some $15 billion being expended over the past four months to drive growth in the various sub-sectors.
The result of this expenditure, according to Minister of Agriculture Zulfikar Mustapha, has been better drainage and irrigation in farming communities, higher yields and a renewed interest to invest in a sector which has been driving economic growth in Guyana for decades.
Agriculture is one of the most important productive sectors of Guyana’s economy; it accounts for approximately one-third of Guyana’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and 30 per cent of the country’s employment.
“We have expended over the last four months close to $15 billion in the agriculture sector and will continue to invest heavily in this area,” Minister Mustapha said during a recent interview with the Guyana Chronicle.
Having travelled to almost every region across the country, the minister has been able to identify and address crucial issues in agriculture-driven communities.
In giving a recap of the past four months, Minister Mustapha said: “The past four months have been hectic for us in the ministry of agriculture. As I mentioned before in other interviews, when I came here this ministry was lacking leadership in terms of proper objectives and policies. And many agency heads and officers within the ministry, they were working, but they were working based on what they thought was correct. There was no coherent policy to guide the ministry, no objective like what we have now.”
While it is still early days, the minister is confident that the ministry is “back on track,” and will continue to be progressive and dynamic.
The fundamental plans of the ministry, as seen over the past four months, is to invest heavily in infrastructural development, which would, in effect, lay the foundation for there to be advancement in various aspects of agriculture.
“We have to ensure that we have more infrastructural and agricultural development in the country, in terms of farming, other crops, livestock, rice and sugar,” Minister Mustapha reasoned.
The activities and policies of the ministry were centred on those core areas of agriculture, with major work being executed to add value and increase accessibility.
In most cases drainage and irrigation took centre stage, with over $100 million being allocated for infrastructural works in the Mahaica-Mahaicony-Abary – Agriculture Development Authority (MMA-ADA) scheme alone.
“The first request that came to me was from the MMA scheme…the farmers there were complaining bitterly that they are not having drainage and that their irrigation system collapsed… I did an emergency assessment of the scheme and we came up with a budget of close to $100 million…that was the first request I took to Cabinet,” Mustapha said.
Today, in this scheme — which is the biggest rice-producing scheme in the country — almost all the canals are cleared and additional work is being done to further improve the drainage and irrigation facilities there.
Those positive developments have served as an impetus for persons who are interested in agriculture.
“People want to go back to rice cultivation in that scheme because of the infrastructural work that they have done over the last three months…we have also put in place similar projects across the country,” Minister Mustapha said.
Farmers in Region Two (Pomeroon-Supenaam) had similar complaints about their farms being flooded; so, the ministry implemented a programme which improved the drainage and irrigation facilities in this region.
The ministry dispatched machinery to desilt the canals and clear blocked trenches, so that water could recede faster.
“Farmers now have better access to irrigation water as well, better access to drainage and we are expending over $29 million to do dam preparation for the crops,” Minister Mustapha said.
Farmers, who would have ceased their operations, he said, have been hearing about the development and have started to return to the agricultural sector.
The talk before August, 2020, was about oil and gas, but there has been a renewed interest in an ancient sector, agriculture, which remains lucrative to this day.
“With what I’m seeing, it is encouraging me to open more lands and to develop drainage and irrigation systems across the country…we want to facilitate farmers, open more lands and provide better access to farmlands,” Minister Mustapha said.
It was reported that the government, over the next five years, will be looking to implement measures in the agricultural sector, geared at diversifying the economy, creating more jobs and increasing farmers’ incomes.
To provide relief to “struggling farmers,” the government has reversed land- lease fees, land taxes and drainage and irrigation fees to 2014 rates. The government has also removed the Value Added Tax (VAT) from fertilisers, agro-chemicals and pesticides.
Further, the National Agricultural Research and Extension Institute (NAREI) in a quest to reduce the cost of inputs and at the same time promote climate-smart agriculture, will expend $15.8 million for the acquisition of shadehouse materials and sprinkler hoses. NAREI will sell the materials to farmers at cost price, saving farmers over 33 per cent ($5 million).
Earnings from this investment will be utilised as a revolving fund for future purchases of required materials for farmers.
“We will continue to promote agricultural diversification with a focus on coconut, and horticulture by engaging NAREI and Hope Coconut Estate. The coconut industry will be given prominence by promoting expansion in acreages, inter-cropping, utilisation of coconut by-products, and increasing production and productivity,” said Minister of Public Works, Juan Edghill, while presenting the 2020 Budget in September.
In 2020, to increase access and reduce the cost of coconut planting materials, the government will establish two coconut nurseries: at Charity on the Essequibo Coast and Kairuni on the Soesdyke-Linden Highway, with the capacity to produce 25,000 additional seedlings per year.
In addition to NAREI and Hope Estate providing planting materials, farmers will receive training on how to establish their own nurseries.