GUYANA, over the years, was known to be agriculture based as its main economic crops were sugar and rice and, as such, was once referred to as the “bread-basket of the Caribbean”. With the recent discovery of oil, however, many may have felt that the government is focussing solely on the oil and gas industry and neglecting the agriculture and other traditional sectors. However, this is not the case. The agriculture sector has been the main vein of the economy for years, as many initiatives were put in place to advance the sector, such as having Agriculture Science being part of Secondary Schools curriculum and offering courses at the University of Guyana, along with having a niche school– Guyana School of Agriculture. Many Guyanese have grown up with some knowledge of either nurturing a plant or an animal. Therefore, they had this wisdom within them.
What was lacking over the years was the ability of the previous government to push agro-processing where raw agri products can become value-added products to improve its value. For Guyana to have a successful agro-processing venture, it needs to overcome the high energy cost. The PPP/C Government was in pursuit of this by initiating the Amaila Falls Hydro Project which was discontinued by the APNU/AFC Government. If this project were in operation, Guyana would have been far ahead in the process. However, to continue the process, the government is working to implement the Gas-to-Shore Project which will allow persons access to an affordable source of energy.
The oil and gas sector is new to the economy. Therefore, much focus must be spent on this industry to have the benefits as soon as possible. Guyana is seeking to further develop itself to become one of the richest countries in the hemisphere. If it were to maintain its agricultural base alone, that objective would not be met.
Nevertheless, the oil and gas industry will not be enough to conquer Guyana’s unemployment rate. The other industries are also needed, especially the agriculture sector as many semi-skilled to skilled persons are talented in this area. The Minister of Agriculture has pointed out his plans for the agriculture sector and indicated what was done since he was awarded his post.
Since joining office, there was an increase in the number of extension officers for agencies such as NAREI, who were hired to serve in the interior areas of the country such as Orealla and Siparuta, as these areas did not have such assistance on a regular basis. This will result in farmers being able to be better supported in whatever help they may need to have better production capacity. Three sugar estates were reopened with the intent to provide jobs for those who were left jobless since the closure. New markets are being sought for the industry and the corporation is also looking at new strategies to provide value added products and move away from bulk sugar and molasses being the sole products. The company also is receiving many attractions from international investors such as Dubai.
Guyana has also had discussions with Trinidad and Tobago to have better trading relationships for their agriculture products, especially for poultry. With all the fruit and vegetable farmers in the country, Guyana has the potential for securing food security in the region and since export taxes have been dropped, exports will be increased by the end of the year.
In 2021, six farm-to-market roads are expected to be built, with three being constructed in Berbice. This would open opportunities for over 30,000 acres of new land to be planted with rice. One of the six roads were set to begin construction at Onverwagt, West Coast Berbice at an estimated cost of $327 million. With the new roads, farmers will also be able to reach their farms without hinderance during the rainy seasons, thereby reducing their production cost and machinery maintenance cost drastically.
Guyana is also set to benefit from the UK with the exit of the EU and will continue to enjoy the duty-free, quota-free access for its sugar in the UK Market. The EU will also continue to have
smooth relations with Guyana separately and trade will not be affected. Many local and foreign investors have shown interest in Guyana’s development. One such investor is a team from Dubai, who have intentions of investing in the agriculture sector, especially sugar and livestock.
These are billion-dollar investments that would create thousands of jobs for the country. This would have spin-off effects on other industries, also that would result in lower unemployment rates, increased Gross Domestic Products (GDP), increased domestic incomes, lower rates of poverty along with increased economic activity. As the government seek to find more regional and international markets for its produce, the foreign income of the country will increase.
Though emphasis is being placed also on the tourism industry, it should be noted that hotels also need fruits and vegetables to prepare their menus and foreigners will also want to support the local markets to take back home. Therefore, every industry is linked, and Oil and Gas industry will not be the only sector supporting Guyana’s economy.