The year 2017 will see production transformed in all sub-sectors through agricultural diversification, improved drainage and irrigation systems, and improved research, and extension and education marketing among other areas.
It has been recognised that sub-sectors within the vast agriculture sector remain a priority area for addressing problems of employment, poverty alleviation, and fostering economic development. Significant focus will be placed on sustainable food security, increasing productivity, expanding commercial agriculture, import substitution, income diversification and export orientation.
The sector is anticipated to contribute 16 percent to the economy while government recommits efforts to protect agriculture and those involved in the various sub sectors.
Minister of Agriculture, Noel Holder during his budget debate presentation on Thursday, highlighted success stories of the ministry while giving insight into what can be expected for the New Year. “The 2017 national budget will evince measures aimed at developing a more diversified and climate-resilient agricultural sector,” Minister Holder explained.
The agricultural sector will continue to contribute 16 percent to the economy while government recommits efforts protect agriculture and those involved in the various sub sectors.
The Guyana Sugar Corporation (GUYSUCO) has been unable to self-reliantly secure the future of both the industry and the future wellbeing of its employees. “Opportunities existed in the past to reorganise and modernise the industry but these were not pursued. Reference is made here to better sugar prices, funding from the EU; accompanying measures following the reform of the EU sugar price regime; access to appropriate levels of skills and experience,” Holder pointed out.
The government has been advised that ‘bailouts’ for this industry in the years 2017 and 2018 will amount to $18.6B and $21.4B respectively. Minister Holder asked “Where is this money to come from without causing serious dislocation to other sectors of the economy which (are) also in great need of investment…? Between July 2015 and December 2016, this Government would have provided GUYSUCO with $23 billion in support.”
Prevailing sugar prices and GUYSUCO’s cost structure would have the corporation continue to lose billions of dollars each year and would continue to require billions of dollars in subsidy each year, despite significant increases in production.
A cabinet sub-committee that has been established has been tasked with examining all options, and providing recommendations to Cabinet for due consideration prior to the end of this year with a view to their implementation in 2017.
The private sector has managed to recommence sales to the Venezuelan market at prices in excess of US$500 per ton. This is considered ‘good news’ as the Agriculture Minister presented the performance of the rice industry, in addition to what can be expected for 2017.
Minister Holder also announced that “The Managing Director and a team from the Mexican Rice Council are planning to visit Guyana around mid-January 2017 with a view to initiating paddy sales to that country.” Guyana currently exports rice to 35 countries around the world.
There has also been an increase in exports by 1% over 2015 at the end of October 2016. However, due to the reduction in world market prices, the value of exports will decline over time. Rice market prices at the end of October were US$370 per ton compared with US$394 in 2015. For 2017, projected exports stand at 531,000 tonnes, valued US$ 180,984,100.
Meanwhile, the Rice Research Station at Burma provides improved rice lines to farmers.
Orchard production at Ebini is expected to increase at the end of 2016, while a farm at Hosororo has been initiated to test and produce planting material for cultivation of turmeric, black pepper, avocado and citrus. A farm was also established at Kato to demonstrate commercial agricultural production and will be fully operationalised in 2017. A similar facility was constructed at Kamarang from which farmers are able to access technical and advisory services. A similar facility is expected to be constructed in Paramakatoi in 2017.
The Agriculture Ministry recognises the vital importance of the other crops sub-sector to the local economy. This sub-sector recorded a 2.5 percent growth by mid-2016, and is expected to achieve a 4.4 percent growth rate in 2017.
Coconut is expected to be exploited after this crop was given much prominence and attention in 2016. It has been recognised that coconut ranks third among major exports in Guyana after rice and sugar, based on acreage and exports. Coconut nurseries are expected to be operationalised in 2017 in the Pomeroon, Wakenaam and at Mon Repos.
Meanwhile, $49M was allocated for the acquisition of chemicals to treat coconut palms affected by red palm mites. More than 1,400 farmers have benefitted from this ongoing exercise thus far.
Plantain production is also expected to increase. In 2016, there has been a record 70,000 tons of plantain produced. This figure is expected to increase in 2017, to supply chip factories in Parika and Leguan. Emphasis will also be placed on mechanised cassava planting and harvesting in the hinterland.
Mangrove management and restoration has been on the Agriculture Ministry’s priority list. In 2016, brushwood groynes were constructed at Walton Hall and Lusignan while 5000 mangrove seedlings were planted at Better Hope on the East Coast of Demerara.
A sum of $45M was set aside as the capital budget for the Guyana Livestock Development Authority (GLDA) to expand its livestock availability, breed quality and production. The Agricultural Ministry through the GLDA has acquired black giant poultry species with improved genetics from Brazil to be used to upgrade the local creole bird population. The local beef sub-sector will expand with the introduction of animals of improved genetic material through breeding bulls, semen and embryo transplants.
Dairy has been recognised as the “top imported food” in 2015 valuing US$27M. There has been a 55 percent increase in the volume of milk and milk products imported. “At one time, Guyana had the most flourishing dairy industries in the Caribbean.”
The Agriculture Ministry intends to re-establish this industry to its “glory days”, Holder said.
Meanwhile the duck hatchery programme under the GLDA continues to make significant contribution to the advancement of this industry. Duckling production is expected to experience positive growth by 50 percent of this year’s projected number of 266,000.
“Regarding the fisheries subsector, over the years we have established some fundamental building blocks… An increase in aquaculture will become necessary as a substitute for seafood as we realise that marine resources are becoming challenged,” Minister Holder explained. Therefore, the Ministry will be engaged in more detailed planning in developing aquaculture and small scale fisheries. In 2017, the promotion and development of a sustainable aquaculture and inland fisheries sector will be achieved through the maintenance of indigenous stocks. Additionally, the research and promotion of new marketable species at the Satyadeow Sawh Aquaculture Station on the East Coast of Demerara will be pursued.
“Progress with hinterland fishing will be propelled with the assignment of staff to the North Rupununi area to assist with the Arapaima Management Plan and to encourage aquaculture activities,” Minister Holder added.
Marketing and agro processing
The Guyana Marketing Corporation (GMC) will continue to create an enabling environment for the promotion, development, utilisation and exportation of non- traditional agricultural commodities.
In taking the lead, the Ministry of Agriculture will seek to establish and operationalise a chip and flour processing facility at Parika in 2017.
“The Ministry of Agriculture will undertake to establish and operationalise at least one processing facility to produce high quality cassava flour, reducing our high import bill for wheat, currently at US$21 Million. We will work in tandem with the bakeries to have the cassava flour incorporated with wheat flour.
Drainage and Irrigation
The National Drainage and Irrigation Authority (NDIA) has been allocated a sum of $2.3B for the completion, construction, rehabilitation, and maintenance of structures, including pump stations and sluices, as well as the purchase and installation of drainage and irrigation pumps.
Minister Holder explained, “Given the critical nature of our water resources to agriculture and other sectors, great importance must be placed on water planning, development and management that is done by NDIA and MMA. Taking due cognisance of the effects of global warming on rainfall patterns and sea level rise, we recognise that our systems must be improved.”
There is a need for proper management of this sub-sector both on a technical and managerial level. In 2017, there will be the commencement of mapping of facilities, structures and drainage and irrigation channels in each region. These mappings would indicate which works are executed by Water Users’ Associations, Community Development Councils, Farmers’ groups, and Neighbourhood Democratic Councils (NDCs) among others.
“The NDIA is expected to be more proactive in 2017 with the introduction of a dredge for clearing outfall channels, thereby significantly decreasing the possibility of flooding along the coastland,” Holder added.
A number of long-term projects are expected to contribute to the country’s development as government employs them to assist in the diversification thrust. These projects include a US$ 12.4 Million- Rural Agricultural Infrastructure Development Project (2016-2020), US$ 11.89 Million-Flood Risk Management Project (2016-2019), US$ 3 Million- Cunha Canal Rehabilitation Project (2016-2019), US 8.5 Million – Hinterland Environmentally Sustainable Development Project (2017- 2021), US$15M – Sustainable Agricultural Development Program Project (2017-2022).
The People’s Progressive Party PPP/C opposition continually condemned the government for the state in which the government has handled the agriculture sector since assuming office. Several Opposition members bemoaned and considered the agriculture sector to be “neglected” by the current administration.
Dharamkumar Seeraj said that the government only blames the previous administration for the agriculture sector’s current state. “How can we vacillate so much with an analysis of events as they unfold? We have to be consistent in recognising that we are mismanaging and taking the economy downhill, then we have to admit that not for our convenience we say its bad weather when things don’t go good and say it’s the PPP and when things go good, then we take credit for it.”