GOVERNMENT’S strategic approach to transforming the agriculture industry has come in for commendations from both the country and regional representatives of the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).
Following a webinar hosted by the Ministry of Agriculture on Monday, Dr. Gillian Smith, the Jamaican who, in 2018, was appointed FAO Representative in Guyana, took to social media platform, Twitter, to point out the fact that Guyana is transforming its food systems for sustainability.
Her post was retweeted by the FAO’s Regional Representative for Latin America and the Caribbean, Mr. Julio Berdegué, who went further to note that Guyana has aptly demonstrated how agriculture is to be transformed. “Guyana is showing us in very practical terms how to transform agrifood systems, for better production, better nutrition, better environment and better life,” Berdegué said.
He added: “No more talk about if and when; Guyana is focused on how to do it well.”
Since assuming office in August 2020, the Dr. Irfaan Ali-led Government has pledged to ensure that agriculture remains a priority area.
More importantly, President Ali has said that Guyana will utilise portions of its petroleum earnings to propel and accelerate the non-oil economy, especially agriculture, which is not only a major income earner, but a critical source of survival. In recognising the effects and impact of climate change, President Ali has pointed to the need for transformation within the agriculture sector.
Dr. Ali, who heads the Caribbean Community (CARICOM)’s Special Ministerial Taskforce (MTF) on Food Production and Food Security had also urged the region to prioritise the work taskforce, and to be serious about addressing the concerns plaguing the food systems.
It was recognised that employing agriculture technologies and lowering the region’s food importation bill should be of utmost importance for the region. In a local context, Guyana has already embarked on a mission to tap into at least 15 per cent of the US$4 billion regional food import bill.
POTENTIAL TO SUPPLY
As it is, most of the commodities which form part of this huge bill, are sourced from the “developed world” while Guyana, a member state of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), has the potential to supply a sizeable amount of the imported products. It was reported that 10 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.
As a matter of fact, members of the local private sector have already answered President Ali’s call to supply the region with soya bean and corn, which are critical ingredients for poultry feed.
A consortium has already embarked on a massive scale trial farm, which has already begun to reap positive results. In the meantime, as part of the 2021 national budget, the government has allocated an initial sum of GY$500M to kickstart infrastructural works to prepare the area that has been earmarked for commercial cultivation.
“Agriculture, food security and our ability to service the regional market is our sustainable future, and all of our efforts will be to ensure we transfer enough resources to this sector to make it viable and resilient,” President Ali said during a recent visit to a trial farm located at Ebini in the Upper Berbice River.
In addition to improved quality of produce and investments in value-added production, Guyana’s plans for a sustainable food system also include implementation of climate-resilient farming.
In a previous interview, Agriculture Minister, Zulfikar Mustapha, had said that the government remains cognisant of the effects of climate change, and has been strategically working to combat its relating challenges.
As far as the food production sector is concerned, Mustapha said that in addition to propagating climate-smart Agriculture, the ministry is also preparing to safeguard farmers and their produce, from the elements.