The Ministers and Secretaries of Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries, Food and Rural Development of the Americas reaffirmed their willingness to implement measures at the national, regional and hemispheric levels to guarantee food and nutritional security in the hemisphere, which has been put at risk by the Covid-19 pandemic and the economic crisis that is expected to follow.
On Monday, the region’s high-level agricultural authorities participated in a virtual meeting hosted by the Secretary of Agriculture and Rural Development of Mexico, Víctor Villalobos, with support from the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).
Following the meeting, the ministers issued a document that describes the individual and joint efforts they will undertake to guarantee food and nutritional security, including:
· Strengthening the production of food and agricultural, forestry and aquaculture products in countries of the Americas, recognizing the strategic role that the agrifood sector will play in economic reactivation.
· Strengthening sanitary measures and protocols that protect human health as well as agricultural health without hindering the adequate flow of food, through prior consultation mechanisms.
· Maintaining proper functioning of national and international markets, as well as local supply chains, through the timely exchange of information on food availability, demand and prices.
· Continuing to support the participation of small and medium-scale agriculture in agrifood chains, particularly during the pandemic and the subsequent period of economic recovery, through public policies, public and private investment, as well as the allocation of funding under preferential conditions.
· Reaffirming their trust in international technical cooperation provided by specialized agencies such as IICA and FAO, which can complement efforts to bolster innovation, inclusion and sustainability in the agriculture and rural sectors.
The agricultural authorities highlighted the joint work undertaken by countries, international organizations and cooperation agencies.
“Lately, we have been meeting more regularly than usual, which is very good. We must maintain the exchange of information and products, adopt agricultural health measures, guarantee the continuity of markets and provide SMEs with the necessary support, with the clear intention of generating the necessary conditions for economic reactivation in the aftermath of the pandemic, but also within the medium and long term ”, stated Víctor Villalobos.
Sonny Perdue, Secretary of Agriculture of the United States, noted, “the rest of the world should admire the relationship between countries in the Americas, which serves as an example that cooperation benefits everyone”. He added that his country is committed to maintaining cooperation with all of its trade partners and called for avoiding the adoption of measures that restrict the exchange of products without any scientific justification.
“Agricultural trade is critical for all citizens; it creates jobs, increases income and provides safe, high-quality food. It is also crucial to keep borders open to foreign workers and protect their safety, because they are essential and deserve to be treated that way”, remarked Marie Claude Bibeau, Minister of Agriculture of Canada.
Tereza Cristina, Minister of Agriculture, Livestock and Supply of Brazil, stated that the agriculture sector is under a great deal of pressure to maintain food supply, but continues to show resilience. “We will rely on the agriculture sector for recovery, but we must improve conditions in the countryside, where the world’s poverty is concentrated. We cannot return to the situation we had before the pandemic; instead, we will need to transition towards a fairer system that does not reward inefficiency”.
Saboto Caesar, Minister of Agriculture, Forestry, Fisheries and Rural Transformation of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, underscored the need for Caribbean countries to receive more technical cooperation to transform their economic base, which relies on tourism and has been hard hit by the pandemic. “We must develop new ways to cooperate, both at the multilateral and bilateral levels”.
Antonio Walker, Minister of Agriculture of Chile, stated, “If it weren’t for international cooperation, many inhabitants in our region would be unable to feed themselves. We have adopted many measures in all of our countries. In Chile, we have achieved progress with respect to the electronic certification, as well as created a committee for safe food supply, which includes a wide range of participants, from small-scale farmers to final consumers. The committee includes farmers, transporters, wholesale and retail markets, as well as supermarkets and traders”.
Spirit of regional cooperation
Also in attendance at the virtual meeting of ministers were the Director General of IICA, Manuel Otero, and the Regional Representative for Latin America and the Caribbean of FAO, Julio Berdegué, who agreed that the agrifood sector can be a driving force for post-pandemic economic recovery, which will be a necessity.
According to Otero, joint work at the regional level must be bolstered through concrete measures aimed at materializing the position adopted by the ministers. “We must always, and particularly amidst these dramatic circumstances, prioritize family farmers as much as health professionals and public safety officials. We require a digital agricultural revolution in family farming, and we have the capacity to succeed in this regard, because today’s technology is available at a low cost and yields high returns. Agriculture is the most relevant sector for food security”.
Julio Berdegué, in turn, noted that it is necessary to reduce inequalities in Latin America and the Caribbean, which have been exacerbated by COVID-19. “In 2019, hunger affected 47.7 million people, and this figure is expected to increase to almost 67 million people by 2030, without even taking into account the impact of the pandemic. Additionally, having a healthy diet is most expensive in our region, costing almost USD 4 per person per day. We are an incredibly productive region, but a healthy diet is beyond the reach of nearly 104 million individuals”.
The virtual meeting on 13 July was the second hemispheric meeting of ministers jointly organized by IICA and FAO. The first meeting, which was held on 22 April, was hosted by the Minister of Agriculture of Chile, Antonio Walker.
The next hemispheric meeting will likely be held in October.
See below the Performance Report for the Ministry of Agriculture 2015-2020
Thirteen Caribbean Ministers of Agriculture participated in a videoconference with the Director General of the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), in which they discussed strategies to bolster agricultural activity and to safeguard the food supply amidst the ongoing health crisis, in a region that relies heavily on food imports and on tourism.
Saboto Caesar, Minister of Agriculture of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, convened the meeting and will also lead the efforts of the Caribbean Community’s (CARICOM) agrifood sector to tackle the pandemic.
Actions that IICA will undertake with the Caribbean countries to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic will include facilitating direct dialogue with Ministers of Agriculture of all regions of the Americas to share useful information for decision making related to food security, and providing online training in good agricultural and health practices for rural workers.
The Ministers of Antigua and Barbuda, The Bahamas, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Surinam and Trinidad and Tobago participated in the videoconference.
“The most important role we can play is to inspire and motivate others”, said Michael Pintard, Minister of Marine Resources and Agriculture of The Bahamas. “Covid-19 is one of those defining tragedies from which we will recover. If we unite as a region and as nations, we will be able to inspire our people”.
Manuel Otero, IICA’s Director General pledged that, “We will work with the Caribbean countries to devise ambitious proposals to generate a new extension services strategy based on the use of online and mobile telephone systems, as well as to drive horizontal cooperation, enabling the ministers to establish contact with key countries to build bridges and to take advantage of existing complementarities”.
One of the greatest challenges facing the Caribbean is to ensure that food imports are not disrupted at this time when the global food trade is under severe pressure. Barbados, for example, imports 80% of the food that it consumes. On the other hand, Jamaica and Guyana are experiencing grave difficulties in storing excess food production after the closure of borders and the collapse of tourism, which is a vital industry for the regional economy that is normally the main outlet for most of the food that is produced locally.
Added to this is the drought now facing the region which makes it critical for the agriculture sector to increase resilience to climate variability and to incorporate technology.
IICA’s Director General also proposed to the Caribbean ministers of Agriculture that international financial agencies should be included in future online meetings, as part of a strategy to integrate efforts to guarantee food supply during the current pandemic and in its aftermath.
The Guyana Rice Development Board (GRDB) has invested $109.7Million in the establishment of a state-of-the-art seed cleaning facility at the Burma Rice Research Station, in Region Five.
The seed cleaner equipment cost $99.3Million while renovation to the existing building was completed for $10.4Million.
, Minister of Agriculture, the Hon. Noel Holder commissioned the ‘Superbrix’ 10-tonne seed cleaner. He noted that the modernised facility will continue to provide good quality seed and better-quality seeds increases yield by 10-15 percent.
“The previous 2-tonne seed cleaner required that operations be done on a 24-hour basis when seeds were being cleaned. This was procured and installed over ten years ago,” Minister Holder reminded.
With this new high-quality system, the minister said, the Burma Rice Research Station will now be able to clean seed that it produces at a faster rate, thus reducing extended working hours.
He added that there is a cost attached for private seed growers who wish to utilise the services offered by the GRDB.
The rice research station has over the years made remarkable strides. Nineteen rice varieties along with the production packages were developed which contributed to the boom in the productivity of farm levels.
The national average has moved to 5.9 hectares compared to about 4 hectares ten years ago.
Also present at the formal event was the GRDB’s General Manager, Nizam Hassan, Deputy General Manager Allison Peters and Chief Technical Officer, Ministry of Agriculture, George Jervis.
A $7.3Million 30-seater school bus has been handed over to the community of Burma in the Mahaica-Berbice region.
The Ministry of Agriculture through the Mahaica Abary Rice Development Scheme and the Ministry of Public Infrastructure jointly donated the vehicle following a request from residents.
The bus will serve students from communities along the Burma Road, including Augsburg, Catherina and Champagne.
According to Minister of Agriculture Hon. Noel Holder, the new service will save time and money for the farming families and reduce traffic congestion and vehicle emissions.
Public Infrastructure Minister, the Hon. David Patterson remarked that while the communities have several needs, the provision of the school bus was one of the “low hanging fruits” for the government.
Pointing to a brighter future for Guyana’s children, Minister Patterson said that the education sector was poised for greatness in the ‘Decade of Development’ announced by His Excellency President David Granger on January 1.
“Do not only drop these children to school but also use the bus to expand the student’s horizon,” Minister Patterson further urged.
Meanwhile, on Wednesday afternoon Minister Holder handed over a tractor and implements valued at
to the Hope Coconut Industries Limited (HCIL).
The implements include a four-disk plough, a twenty-disk harrow and a ditcher.
“This will strengthen the capacity of Hope Estate to provide land preparation services to the small cash crop farmers and maintain 77km of access dams in the estate. Two hundred and sixty cash crop farmers with approximately 952 acres under cultivation will directly benefit from this donation,” Minister Holder stated.
Mahadeo Mohabir, one of the beneficiaries, said he had to plough his land manually before the tractor was donated. “We glad we get this tractor now; it is a big help. Thanks to the Minister and all who donated it,” the cash crop farmer said.
With the donation, Boodhnarine Ramdas, another farmer said he no longer had to pay workers to take days to cultivate his farm. “This can be done in two hours the most.”
Second highest production on record
Highest production for Region 6
With a final count of 1,049,874 metric tonnes (mt) of paddy, just 8,254 tonnes short of the 2015 record production of 1,058,128 mt. 2019 stands as the second highest rice producing year to date.
Guyana managed to produce this record amount of rice despite a number of challenges including extremely unfavourable weather conditions and some pest infestation. These challenges were taken head on by the Guyana Rice Development Board (GRDB), who spared no effort in ensuring that the extension and support services meted out to their rice farmers were superior.
Despite this, some prominent persons and various sections of the media would have it be believed that rice is failing, despite 2019 being almost a record breaking year. Not only was production in 2019 close to surpassing the 2015 national record but production has increased 28% since 2016 as well. This is possible not only by the efforts extended by the GRDB but also by the hard work of our farmers.
Region 5 remains the highest producing region, harvesting 454,476 mt of paddy (295,409 mt rice equivalent) at a 99% harvesting rate. Second to Region 5 is Region 6 with a total of 311,915 mt of paddy (202,745 mt rice equivalent). As such region 5 stands as the highest rice producing region for 2019.
It is worth noting that as it relates to region 6, last year’s production is the highest ever for the region since it began paddy production. Region 6 produced 4,910,444 bags of paddy. This equates to a 25% increase in Paddy production for Region 6.
Overall a total of 16,528,024 bags of paddy (a rice equivalent of 682,418 mt) was produced. 178,628 hectares were sown, with an average yield of 93 bags of rice per hectare (38 bags of rice per acre).
12% increase in volume; 20% increase in value
The Guyana Rice Development Board’s 2019 export report has revealed that US$222.7 million was earned through the export of rice to more than 35 countries in that year alone. The export value for 2019 represents an increase of 20% when compared to the revenue earned from the export in 2018 (US $186 million).
526,617 tonnes of paddy, rice and rice by-products were exported in 2019 compared with 470,312 tonnes in 2018, an increase of 12%. The greatest amount of exports went to Latin American countries, with Venezuela being the largest buyer of rice from Guyana for 2019 with 177,682 tonnes (34% of all exports). Second to Venezuela was Portugal with a total of 61,873 tonnes of rice being exported there, representing 12% of the total amount of rice exported.
69,956 tonnes (13%) valued at US $35 million were exported to CARICOM countries in 2019. Of this figure, Jamaica and Trinidad were the largest CARICOM importers, importing 32,743 tonnes and 25,417 tonnes respectively. Guyana exported rice to ten CARICOM countries, namely; Antigua, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Jamaica, St. Lucia, St. Vincent, St. Kitts, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago.
214,190 tonnes of rice (41%) were shipped to the European Union in 2019, compared with 146,092 tonnes shipped in 2018, an increase of 47%. Main importing countries were Portugal, Italy, United Kingdom and Spain.
241,919 tonnes of products (46%) were exported to Latin American countries of which 177,682 tonnes were shipped to Venezuela. Other main importing countries were Cuba, Columbia, Honduras and Panama.
As it relates to export by product, white rice was the largest export earner. White rice accounted for 51% of the total amount of rice exported in 2019, earning US $128,105,107. Other products exported were parboiled rice, cargo rice, paddy and bran.
Guyana produced more than one million tonnes of paddy for 2019, making it the second highest production year for rice in Guyana. With annual average yields increasing steadily and closing 2019 at 5.9 tonnes per hectare, production is expected to continue to increase in the coming years.
It is my firm belief that it is important for everyone to be aware of the fact that agriculture is currently the world’s leading employer and plays a vital role in the livelihood of 40% of its population. In Guyana, we are fortunate to have an agriculture sector that is both strong and well structured. Credit must be given to the Government of Guyana and Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) in particular, which showed both commitment and wisdom in investing and creating favorable pathways for continued development of the sector over the past four years.
I am both pleased and impressed that the new management of Hope Coconut Industries Limited (HCIL) took advantage of the favorable environment that was created by the MOA to work towards making the estate sustainable and less dependent on Government’s subvention for its day to day management.
The major setbacks the estate suffered under mismanagement by the PPP led Government cannot be swept under the carpet. The estate was hemorrhaging badly and almost went bankrupt. Staff at one time were not paid their monthly salaries for months. All the basic infrastructures were in a state of total collapse and corruption was rampant. However, we should put these unfortunate occurrences behind us and look positively towards the future.
Currently, I must acknowledge the fact that the financial future for HCIL is bright. As a direct result of prudent management of its resources and systems put in place by the MOA, the annual income of the estate has leaped from G$17 million in 2015 to G$36million in 2019. This resulted in a 47% increase in income.
In its wisdom, the current government over the past 4 years, invested significant financial and human resources to improve the crippling infrastructure at Hope Estate. The aim of this intervention was to better serve farmers’ needs, most of whom are small producers and risk takers. As a direct result of these interventions, today the tides have turned for the better. Several bridges, dams, main access road, the entire D&I system, extension and repairs of the main office building, establishing of a vibrant coconut nursery and coconut demonstration plot – to name a few are now up and running for the benefit of stakeholder of Hope Estate.
The year 2019 was good for HCIL. Much needed improvements were made, especially in the area of improving its infrastructure. It is important to mention that the estate has embarked on projects that are economically smart, environmentally safe and agronomically sound. Its highly successful coconut nursery, which continues to serve farmers’ needs and is currently one of HCIL ‘s main income streams as well as the extension of its Head Office Building should be commended. The estate is expected to perform even better in 2020. This is because the MOA has in its plan to provide HCIL with a few critical pieces of equipment as well as an excavator which will be used full time to improve the D & I systems that are so critical for production. In addition, a mechanical pump, which is currently under construction at a cost of over G$ 200 million is expected to become fully operational in the first quarter of 2020. This will significantly reduce the occurrence of flooding at Hope Estate. Farmers and stakeholders can be assured that these interventions will aid in the transition journey of the estate towards sustainability and improved services.
The Ministry of Agriculture will continue to provide the necessary guidance to both the management of HCIL and farmers to bring back the estate from disarray and neglect to profitability. We are committed, and will work assiduously, to ensure the value chain at HCIL becomes more productive, efficient, profitable and, critically, more inclusive. I wish to take this opportunity to encourage all producers to look seriously at adopting innovative agricultural technologies that are yield enhancing. This, if adopted and implemented correctly, can result in increased production and productivity. I firmly belief that with the required assistance farmers would be incentivized to work both harder and smarter for their own benefit and the benefit of our agricultural sector in particular as well as the nation’s welfare in general.
Hon. Noel Holder M.P.
Minister of Agriculture