Revamped extension services underway
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Minister of Agriculture, Zulfikar Mustapha addressing residents at Aurora village, Essequibo Coast on Saturday
Minister of Agriculture, Zulfikar Mustapha addressing residents at Aurora village, Essequibo Coast on Saturday

– Agri. Minister tells Reg. 2 farmers

IN an effort to strengthen the support given to farmers at the regional level, the Ministry of Agriculture has embarked on a comprehensive effort to revamp its extension services, according to subject minister, Zulfikar Mustapha.

He assured the farmers of Aurora village, Essequibo that extension officers would have to either be willing to provide improved services or step down from their posts. Minister Mustapha made quick to make specific reference to the flood relief grants, and the fact that he has received reports of misconduct by some extension officers, who were allegedly unethical in their compilation of the list of potential grants recipients.

“I told the officers this morning [Saturday] that I heard they are putting in their friends and family on the list,” Minister Mustapha related.

Minister of Agriculture, Zulfikar Mustapha taking notes of a resident’s concern

With similar complaints surfacing in many other regions, including Regions Five, the Agriculture Minister had previously informed that a widespread investigation was underway to determine whether the allegations were true.
Mustapha said that if these are found to be factual, the errant extension officers will be penalised accordingly.

“We don’t want anybody who is not entitled to be on the list,” Mustapha stressed, as he encouraged residents to be the government’s eyes and ears on the ground.

“We depend on the locals; we depend on people like you,” he noted. According to Mustapha, in an effort to ensure that the flood relief grants are disbursed in a fair and transparent manner, the Audit Office was called in to overlook the process, to ensure that it is being executed in accordance with best practices. “It’s taxpayers’ money and we have to be accountable for it,” Mustapha stressed.

It was on August 1, 2021, that President Ali announced his government’s intention to provide financial assistance to various categories of persons who had been affected by the ongoing floods, which started more than three months ago.

President Ali had said then that the assistance will cover various categories of households and farmers, and that it will not exceed a ceiling of $10 million per individual.

“In these categories, farmers within the context of a homestead would receive $100,000 each; those with kitchen gardens will receive $50,000 each, and households excluding homestead and kitchen garden will receive 50,000 each,” the Head of State said.

A resident of Aurora village, Essequibo Coast expresses his concerns during a meeting with the Agriculture Minister on Saturday

He noted that approximately 52,000 households across 300 communities had been affected by the unprecedented levels of floodwaters.

“The combined assistance to homestead farmers, kitchen gardens and households for these categories will be in excess of $3.5 billion,” the President related.

He recognised, too, that the rains had a significant impact on the rice sector, with approximately 50,000 acres and 2,000 farmers being directly affected. As a result, support will be given to rice farmers on a categorised basis.

“For rice that was ready to harvest but lost in the floods, $80,000 per acre would be given to those farmers. For rice sown and lost in the autumn crop, these farmers will receive $65,000 per acre. For land that was completely prepared but was not sown, $45,000 per acre would be given to these farmers,” President Ali specified.

In addition to this, he said that 60,000 bags of seed paddy would also be made available for rice farmers. “The combined assistance in these four categories would be in excess of $3.2 billion,” Dr. Ali noted.

He said that support for the livestock industry will also be given, based on categories of subsistence farmers, small farmers, medium farmers, and large-scale farmers. So far, in excess of 2,000 livestock farmers have been affected.

“In total, these four categories will benefit from in excess of $600 million direct transfers,” President Ali added. In reminding Essequibians of the various categories of flood relief, Minister Mustapha said that the monies are not compensation for losses, but rather, a grant for farmers to “get back on the their feet.”

BRIGHT FUTURE
Once flood-affected farmers recover, Minister Mustapha said that Guyana’s agriculture sector is poised for exponential growth and transformation. To begin with, the minister said that Guyana has already reassumed its position as the leading agriculture nation within the Caribbean.

For the sector to develop even further, Mustapha emphasised the need for farmers to pursue resilient farming, using alternatives such as shade houses, and investing in agro-processing initiatives.

In advocating for the latter, the minister gave an example of a sweet potato farmer who just sells his produce at the market, while another farmer invests in peeling, chipping, and packaging the same produce and selling it at increased prices both locally and internationally.
As a means of building the regions’ processing capabilities, Mustapha said that the Pomeroon-Supenaam region will soon benefit from the establishment of a state-of-the-art agro-processing plant at Anna Regina.

The project is being executed at a cost of $60 million and will be located in a separate building adjacent to the Guyana School of Agriculture’s (GSA) Region Two campus.

ISSUES SOLVED
Aside from outlining the ministry’s plans and programmes, Minister Mustapha opened the forum for residents to outline whatever issues are bothering them. This aspect of the forum was particularly welcomed by the residents, especially farmers, who raised issues mainly relating to the need for improved drainage and better farming roads.

Minister Mustapha, accompanied by his technical staff, noted the complaint and contact details of the residents, and promised to have all the issues resolved. The minister explained that of the issues raised, those that can be remedied immediately will be done, while those that require significant funds will be considered as part of government’s compilation of the national 2022 budget.

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