–learn of incentives, opportunities for investment during ‘agribusiness’ webinar
GUYANA’S ideal tropical climate, and vast expanse of freshwater as well as tracts of productive land, all buttressed by plans for infrastructure development and a burgeoning petroleum sector, create the right conditions for further advancement, particularly in agriculture, a sector which has attracted the attention of over 150 U.S. companies.
Those companies which are interested in doing business in Guyana, learnt about the country’s potential and available opportunities during an ‘agribusiness’ webinar hosted by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration, and the U.S. Embassy here in Guyana on Monday.
Interested investors heard directly from President Dr. Irfaan Ali, who, in his address during the forum, spoke extensively about the Government’s plans to facilitate growth and development in the agriculture sector.
“I welcome you to a country that is open to doing business; that is ready to facilitate growth and development, and that is ready to help private investment to ensure that you have a decent return. A country and a market that believe inherently in the participation of the private sector,” President Ali said.
In emphasising the importance of the sector, he told the U.S. companies that agriculture accounts for 21.7 per cent of Guyana’s non-oil Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
In terms of agriculture trade, the country’s export earnings are about US$370 million, which primarily comes from rice, fish, sugar, and some amount of non-traditional produce. The sector, he said, also accounts for 12.1 per cent of local employment.
Although employment in the sector is highest in the rural areas, a lot of investments have been made in research, technological advancement and skills development, which have produced a very competent skill base in terms of available human assets.
He divulged, too, that about five per cent of the country’s national budget has been allocated to agriculture.
While contributing significantly to the local economy, President Ali said there is more that could be achieved through the sector at reference, especially considering Guyana’s potential to produce a large portion of the food requirement for CARICOM, as well as its proximity to one of the most dynamic and robust agricultural sectors by diversification in the world, Brazil, and the under-investment in the sector.
The Head of State was quick to distinguish between under investment and underdevelopment.
“Why I would not say underdevelopment is because you have a government that is ready to put in the necessary infrastructure investment to facilitate the private investment in the sector to realise the potential we’ll talk about,” President Ali related.
In speaking about the potential for advancement in the sector, the president said: “So those who have experience in agriculture would know when you hear vast tracts of productive land and freshwater coming together, you get excited, because the natural environment with the tropical climate allows for the development of the sector.”
As further encouragement, he also informed the prospective investors that the country only produces 59 per cent of its internal demand.
“This is some of what Guyana offers: 215,000 square kilometres of coastline, an ideal location to access global markets, attractive fiscal incentives for investment, a private sector-friendly government, and, of course, a country with diverse people,” President Ali said.
Specific to opportunities in the sector, he related that companies could invest in rice, sugar, corn, soya, coconut, spices, fruits and vegetables, agro-processing, agrochemical, the livestock sector (poultry, beef, dairy, sheep, and goat) and fisheries-agriculture and shrimp.
In pointing to Guyana’s productive capacity within CARICOM, the Head of State said that the potential is about US$25 million in poultry alone, 90 per cent of which is imported.
“Guyana has the potential of satisfying all of CARICOM’s food requirement for poultry products, eggs, beef, aquaculture. We have the land; we have the freshwater, but what we don’t have is the investment. What we don’t have are the large-scale mega-farms that would allow us to produce; that would allow us to facilitate the type of growth that will help us to enter this natural market in CARICOM,” President Ali said.
While the potential is there, there is a need for mega investments in the agriculture sector to bolster Guyana’s ability to satisfy the regional market.
“What we need, as I said, are the investors who are ready to make the investments into large-scale mega-facilities that will support the growth and development of these different sub-sectors. In terms of land availability, in every one of these areas, we have lands that are available.
“We have freshwater; and we have the critical infrastructure link that will allow you to move your produce from the field to the market, or to the export facility as it is now,” President Ali said.
On the subject of aquaculture, the president said that the government will be developing this sector in the short-term to service potential markets, including those of CARICOM, the U.S., Mexico, and the European Union (EU).
“The USA, for example, imported over 550,000 tonnes of frozen shrimp and prawns valued at US$4.8 billion. So here is an opportunity for us to work together with the local private sector and the U.S. investors to meet the demand in the United States. And what do we have for the aquaculture industry? We have the brackish water; we have freshwater and salted water, all of which are distinct and comparative advantages in the aquaculture industry,” President Ali related.
“Again, like the other sectors, Government provides a comprehensive list of tax breaks, fiscal incentives, drainage and irrigation support, infrastructure support; these are things that Government assists with,” the President said, as further encouragement to the potential investors.
President Ali also spoke about investment opportunities in the traditional sectors, including rice, sugar and coconut, while pointing to the tremendous opportunities in corn and soya production.
“I want to say to you that Guyana has also taken back the lead role in agriculture for the region; that is the CARICOM region. And for the purposes of moving forward, we welcome you and your investment to a safe investment destination,” the President said.
Following his presentation, President Ali personally took questions from potential investors on several key areas of his presentation, including access to freshwater resources, electricity cost reduction, the use of agro-technology, and access to electricity for the agriculture sector.
“Historically, this has been one of the most inhibiting factors for us to develop our country; the cost of electricity. Right now, all of our electricity is supplied through heavy fuel oil (HFO). That will change tremendously over the medium to long-term,” President Ali said.
“We are now developing an energy mix that will include natural gas, solar, wind, and the plan is to have an energy strategy that would create a new energy corridor between Guyana, Brazil and Suriname. So, you will see the cost of energy reducing, because of the investment we will be making,” the President said, adding: “This is priority for my Government, agriculture and food production is priority; once there’s an interest.”
President Ali was joined by Foreign Secretary Robert Persaud and representatives from the Ministry of Agriculture at State House, while Minister of Agriculture, Zulfikar Mustapha and United States Ambassador to Guyana, Sarah-Ann Lynch joined the session virtually.