He noted too, that the closing of the READ event has shown the many successes which have come about since the government has shown a willingness to invest in small farmers. In the process, it achieved the support of IFAD, although initially it did not seem that the programme would have been successful. However, much has happened under new leadership in the programme.
The new leadership was brought into the programme through the late Vimala Balgobin, who understood its vision. The minister stated that Vimala understood her job and knew what had to be done and she was doing it. He observed that IFAD had wanted a numeracy programme in Parika Backdam and he suggested that it would be better to build a bridge instead.
Graduating at the top of her class with an MBA, Vimala demonstrated to the young people in Guyana that there was much scope to develop here. “Your best tribute to Vimala is to ensure that your organisation and business continue to prosper,” he stated. Vimala died recently during a vehicular accident on the trail to Lethem.
Minister Ramsammy observed that farming is one of the most important businesses in the world, adding that “For far too long in our country, we have treated farming and farmers as peasants…the truth is they feed our country and our world.” The 2005 flood had a crippling impact on the country’s agriculture, he noted, and urged the farmers that as business people, they should use farming and agriculture to promote their businesses.
The READ project recognised the many small groups which need support, and the efforts of government to promote agriculture do not end with the project.
Minister of Agriculture Dr. Leslie Ramsammy listens as this woman explains the product he holds in his hand
He has instructed the Permanent Secretary George Jervis to ensure that the READ staff do not disappear from the ministry and that they will find ways to help the farmers to succeed through the linking of producers and buyers, since businesses collapse if there is no one to buy. The fact that more than 32 countries around the world are buying rice from Guyana is what makes this successful, he indicated.
Agriculture in Guyana cannot be merely to meet food security; it has to be an export industry the minister insisted. However, farmers should get registered with the Food and Drug Agency. He explained that in Guyana, some things can be grown better than in other countries, and with better seeds and better breeds of animals and better feeding mechanisms, things can go even further. This is what Government is trying to do which will reduce the cost of production.
He also pointed out that farmers are not earning much from their crops and the new work that the ministry is doing is to link the farmers directly to the consumer, who will pay the farmers. The READ staff will now become facilitators, who will make the links. He added that the Guyana Marketing Corporation will become the avenue for Guyana’s goods and will create contacts. Moving from subsistence to genuine businesses will see that every farm will be registered if the products are to be sold to hotels in Guyana. Whilst hotels have to demonstrate that they are buying safe food, farms will have to be registered.
The minister also noted that whilst raw material should be converted into processed goods and packaged to international standards so that they can compete with brands from around the world. “…we have to start with us, by buying from us…we got to make sure that we support our own,” Minister Ramsammy posited.
Agriculture Minister Dr. Leslie Ramsammy addresses farmers at the Guyana International Conference Centre
He made reference to a value-added workshop held by Arnold Mendonca from the Inter American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) from which farmers learnt to make sausages among other products. He said they could do so safely and be certified and take it to the hotels. “…we could build the enterprise, farming remains our best opportunity to elevate our lives and grow our economy.”
Whilst Guyana’s economy will have to be diversified through oil and gas and ICT and services which would all become part of it, “…the pillar has been and will be agriculture. I believe that farming is a fledgling business, ready to take off as an important contributor to the development of our country and the Caribbean,” the minister stated.
He observed that of the US$5B spent by the Caribbean on food imports, Guyana could provide much of that food. This money should go to Guyanese farmers for chicken, mutton and lamb. He added that it is his belief that some of Guyana’s meat should be processed instead of purchasing them from outside.
“We should, by the end of this year, be purchasing carrots from local manufacturers, and only blended flour should be used in all commercial enterprises which mean that a certain percentage should be blended with wheat flour,” he added.
Meanwhile, members of the groups who were present lauded the READ project which helped them significantly. Among them were Marsha Williams of the Mainstay Village Council Farmers’ Group; Denise Thomas of the Kuru Kuru Farmers’ Crops and Livestock Association; Jived Ishmael of the West Berbice Sheep and Goat Farmers’ Association; Dhaniram Ramchand of the Bath Referendum Farmers’ Group and Paula Marks of the Young Women’s Christian Association.