The Savannahs – and agriculture’s future
A GINA feature by– Azeem Khan
With an abundance of land in the Intermediate Savannahs and the Rupununi, in Region Nine, Guyana has the wherewithal to become food secure and with these vast swathes of land, and the expertise of its people, Guyana can aid in a big way to reduce the Caribbean’s $4 Billion annual food import bill. In reality, the hinterland is on stream to become Guyana’s next agricultural frontier, as outlined by President David Granger.
Already, investors in Brazil, Guyana’s neighbour to the south and south west, have indicated their willingness to invest in the intermediate and Rupununi savannahs.
Feasibility studies have been conducted and consultations held with other prospective investors. The government’s vision is to break the cycle of rural poverty, by creating jobs for young people, promoting better health and nutrition, and providing support for local farmers.
Agriculture Minster Noel Holder said the Brazilians have shown a lot of interest, and some of them would like to start as early as late this year. Brazil has had very successful projects in agricultural development, and it is in the same line that they are seeking to invest in Guyana’s hinterland, he said. There is an urgent need for Guyana to shift its economic base to the hinterland region, as the effects of climate change are becoming more daring.
The Minister also pointed out that agriculture would not be the only means of developing the hinterland, alluding to gold, bauxite and other minerals, and hinterland tourism that can all help to move Guyana inland. While sugar and rice will remain important as a foreign exchange base, “in the interim, we have to look inland for our main development.”
The Intermediate and Rupununi Savannahs have been chosen largely because they are already cleared of vegetation.
The Minister advised that feasibility studies have been completed, providing the Government with a fair idea of the economic returns from the investments from that part of Guyana.
There are plans to cultivate corn, soya-bean, orchard crops such as citrus, while cattle production, both meat and dairy, and to some extent small ruminants will also be undertaken.
“We have done some feasibility studies on that, so we are in a position to say to potential investors, here is a package of the things you can do, these are the expected returns,” the Minister explained.
Guyana has had a vibrant and building livestock industry in the early 1990s, as this was managed by the then Guyana Livestock Development Company, which according to the Minister, was the biggest cattle operation in the whole of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).
At the time, Guyana was producing one-third of its milk requirements. The country was always self-sufficient in beef and was on the verge of being able to export, but the country then was not certified ‘free from foot and mouth disease’.
The Minister speaking on the current status of the livestock industry said not much was done in the sector for the past 20 years. “Our abattoir figures show that we have been slaughtering over 50 percent of our females and when you start doing that with a national herd, you start to destroy it. What is being done now is that the livestock authority is buying females that are presented at the abattoir to keep them back,” Holder explained.
These females are then moved to Ebini in the intermediate savannahs for development, in an effort to maintain the national stock, which will then be the seed stock used to develop the industry in the Intermediate Savannahs later on.
Minister Holder believes that it is too early for Guyana to move towards beef exportation, as this can kill the cattle industry.
The Minister has touted the reintroduction of a milk plant as this was an initiative that proved very successful in the past. He indicated that he is seeking funds through international collaboration for the establishment of a milk plant as this can serve as a stimulus to the dairy industry.
“What you will do is go into the Abary, put down a milk cooling station there, put down one at Mahaicony, one at Mahaica and farmers will bring their milk. You cool it and once a day a tanker goes up and brings it down to the milk plant and the milk plant will produce flavoured milk, pasteurised milk etc.”
Vision for Diversification
It is the vision of the Minister that farmers will own factories that will be established to process the various items they produce and then sell to the local and international markets.
Owners of factories can buy cassava and plantains, sell some in the market and make flour and chips among others. “Once you start packaging, you can start looking at export markets.” However, he noted that one of the many challenges faced is the lack of markets and no shipping line within CARICOM. It is his plan to continue to push for the effective implementation of the Caricom Single Market and Economy (CSME) to allow farmers to develop.
Guyana is country that has 83,000 square miles – 214,000 square kilometers to develop, however, most of the population, that is over 80 percent, are living on a piece of land 250 miles long and approximately 35 miles wide on the coastal plain, hence there is need to move the country’s economic base away from the coast into the hinterland.
In his address on World Food Day recently, President David Granger stated that the role of the Ministry of Agriculture, in this process, will be on pasture development, on orchards and beef and dairy development and infrastructural rehabilitation and its overall development.
“We are on the move. Our government, even as we open up new farmlands in the hinterland, promise not to neglect agriculture on the coastland. We promise to continue to support coastal agriculture since coastal agriculture, our rice lands and sugar lands remain the bedrock of our production.”
Regional agricultural institutes
President Granger reminded of the coalition’s campaign promise to hinterland communities, to establish regional agricultural institutes to train young people. “We need to ensure that training facilities exist so that young people who leave secondary school, they can go into these hinterland agricultural institutes.” (And) “In this regard, I’d like to hold the Minister of Agriculture to the campaign pledge which I made to the hinterland, that during his tenure in office, however long or short it would be, he would establish a regional agricultural institute in every agricultural region.”
Guyana, he said, joined the international community in pledging to end hunger, to achieve food security, to stamp out poverty and establish sustainable agriculture.