GUYANA’S Agriculture Minister Zulfikar Mustapha spearheaded the government’s ongoing flood-relief cash grant distribution exercise in Region Three, West Demerara, on Saturday. On Friday, Oct 15, the minister also spearheaded the flood-relief effort in Region Two, Essequibo, where he was accompanied by Local Government Ministe, Nigel Dharamlall and other members of the government, as well as the Director-General of the Ministry of Agriculture. The minister rolled out the flood-relief grant programme in August in Region Six, promising to expand it to all regions. The minister has kept his promise. Zulfikar Mustapha has been the most visible minister on the ground addressing issues affecting farmers. Opinion polls revealed that he has been the most effective Agriculture Minister since independence, championing farmers’ interests. Since August of 2020, the government has been providing all possible assistance to farmers to boost food production.
On Saturday Oct 16, Minister Mustapha led the flood-relief effort at three distribution centres (public schools) – West Demerara, Leonora, and Meten- Meer Zorg. Natural Resources Minister Vickram Bharrat led the effort at four schools Parika and Greenwich, and surrounding areas – all cash-crop farming areas — while Attorney-General Anil Nandlall led the effort on the West Bank also at four schools. Nandlall served the most recipients at Saturday’s exercise.
The three ministers engaged farmers and household heads at 11 distribution centres. Over 5,000 farmers and households benefited from the grant relief on Saturday. Over $400M was distributed on Saturday Oct 16. Last Saturday, farmers in the riverine areas and islands received their flood-relief grants.
President Irfaan Ali, as announced by Minster Mustapha at his three meetings as well as the other ministers at their meetings, committed in early June to provide relief assistance to farmers who lost crops and livestock during the floods. Over 50K farmers and home-owners suffered flood-related damage.
Farmers who suffered losses in rice, cash-crop, and livestock during the floods were entitled to grants once their information was verified by several staff who fanned out around the country to assess damage and losses. Last July, the government passed a bill committing $7.6 billion for the relief programme that was rolled out in August.
Minister Zulfikar said the money is a huge injection to spur the economy that has been affected by COVID and several natural calamities. Minister Zulfikar explained that the relief grant is not compensation for losses, but a grant to assist the farmers to get re-started in farming and livestock production.
Region Three is among the most affected by the floods with over 300 rice farmers and 300 livestock owners losing crops and animals in the billions of dollars. “This region is one of the most important regions in terms of agriculture with over 5,000 farmers benefiting from this initiative,” Minister Mustapha told the large gathering at the West Demerara Secondary School. The remark was repeated at the other two centres. He told the three gatherings that Guyana can be the breadbasket of the Caribbean that has been importing over US$5 billion worth of food annually from outside the Region. Guyana had lost out on exports because of the policies of the previous administration. He also noted that under the preceding regime, Guyana had ceded agricultural status and honours to St. Vincent. But the PPP government has been making gains to recapture agro markets.
He said under the PPP, agriculture is occupying its rightful place as the leading food producer in the Region.
The minister assured those whose names were not on the list to receive grants will be added thereto, once they provide the information and it is verified by staff investigators. “If your name is not on the list, make representation at the problem desk. Once your claim is verified that you were affected, you will get your relief. I make that commitment to you.”
Farmers from the payout at the various centres said that the grant will assist them to return to the land to restart their operations. Most plan to purchase, seeds, seedlings, chicks, fertilisers, and related items to get them back into farming.