–points to growing interest in Guyana’s non-traditional crops overseas
By Navendra Seoraj
GUYANA continues to prove that its agricultural wealth stretches beyond rice and sugar, with non-traditional agricultural produce raking in over US$12.2 million (G$2.5B) in 2020.
This was earned from the export of more than 9,000 tonnes of non-traditional agricultural produce, which included grain crops, oil seeds, root and tuber crops, vegetables and “greens”, spices and seasonings and a wide variety of fruits.
Based on information shared with the Guyana Chronicle on Monday, dried coconut was the most exported product, accounting for 8,217 metric tonnes of total exports and earning over $1.6 billion. The local coconut industry currently has about 1,800 farmers, who collectively cultivate some 24,000 acres of coconut in Regions One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six and Ten. And, Guyana, on average, produces 92 million nuts annually, much of which is exported for coconut copra and water, mainly to Barbados, Trinidad and The Dominican Republic.
Other widely exported products include coconut water, which accounted for 428 metric tonnes of total exports and earned $377 million, pumpkin with 428 metric tonnes and $52.5 million in revenue, and watermelons with 212 metric tonnes and revenue of $60.4 million.
The non-traditional agricultural sector has been increasing in importance because of the introduction of programmes and projects which promote diversification and expansion. In 2019, the largest share of agricultural production was contributed by other crops; it represented 48.9 per cent of agriculture Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and 8.6 per cent of total GDP. It is also the major source of income and employment for the rural population.
The other crops/fruits and vegetables sub-sector in Guyana is characterised by the predominance of varying farming systems, such as small scale shifting cultivation (slash and burn) for staples, like cassava, eddoe, plantain, peas and beans, pineapples, peanuts etc for cash income and own consumption; medium to large pure stands of tree crops, such as coconuts and citrus; and medium and small farms with permanent crops intercropped with cassava, plantain and other ground provision to supplement cash income and ensure food security.
The Guyana Chronicle understands that these crops are produced mainly by small farmers and contribute to the domestic market and food security, and support the incomes of small farming communities. Crops are cultivated in all of the regions in Guyana. However, commercial level production is concentrated in Regions One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six and Ten.
And, based on available statistics, production of non-traditional crops, in 2020, was 764,883 metric tonnes, two per cent more than the 749,087 metric tonnes produced in 2019. Guyana has strategic advantages of suitable land availability for growing crops, sufficient water resources, suitable weather, as well as policy support from the government to enhance its role as a regional leader in agricultural production and export of surplus.
Evidently too, there is growing interest in Guyana’s non-traditional crops overseas, as export volumes of non-traditional crops have increased due to the agriculture export diversification initiatives (AEDP). This programme was designed to promote certain crops for the local market and to target the export market, particularly the CARICOM market. Among the crops promoted were the 4Ps (peppers, plantains, pineapples and pumpkin) and the 4Cs (Coconut, citrus, cassava, carrots).
During 2019, about 9,121 tonnes of fresh fruits, vegetables and processed foods were exported from Guyana to the Caribbean region and other countries. The total export value during 2019 of non-traditional agricultural commodities was $US12.4M (G$2.5B).
For years, Guyana’s ‘potential’ to become the breadbasket of the Caribbean has been under the spotlight and while the rhetoric has outweighed action on this front, the country will be looking to realise its potential in the coming years, with immediate focus on tapping at least 15 per cent of the close to US$6 billion regional food import bill.
Most of the commodities, which form part of this huge bill, are sourced from the “developed world” while Guyana, a member state of the CARICOM, has the potential to supply a sizeable amount of those commodities.
It was reported that ten commodities – food preparations, wheat, rice, chicken, non-alcoholic beverages, maize, soya bean, sugar and palm oil — account for more than 40 per cent of CARICOM’s food import bill.
Immediately, based on this list, Guyana has the potential to supply rice, sugar and poultry, among many other things. And, there have already been attempts by Government to create a business-friendly environment by removing Value Added Tax (VAT) on the poultry industry and removing VAT and duties on machinery and equipment for mining, forestry, agriculture and manufacturing.