Intermediate, Rupununi savannahs to be opened for agri diversification

Minister of Finance Winston Jordan has announced that government will open up arable lands within the interior savannahs to promote diversified agriculture, thereby sustaining agro-development in Guyana.

This announcement was made as Minister Jordan presented the 2017 National Budget to the National Assembly today.

The agriculture sector has been allocated $ 20.6B to improve drainage and irrigation systems, increase cultivation and productivity in traditional agriculture, promote large-scale agriculture in the Intermediate and Rupununi Savannahs, and strengthen the livestock and fisheries sub- sectors.

The Minister said that traditional agriculture, although its role may be significant in Guyana, has only been anchored on the two major crops (rice and sugar) and other small cash crops.

“Our un-diversified agriculture sector has become the albatross around our neck, as our main crops are often subjected to the vagaries of price, climate change, and indifferent management, among others. As such, there is great urgency for us to evolve with the changing times and, post haste, pursue an aggressive, diversified, agricultural programme.” Minister Jordan explained.

Moving towards diversifying the sector, the government will explore options for non-traditional agricultural crops, such as corn, spices, and quinoa.

“In 2017, we will begin to responsibly open the vast Intermediate and Rupununi Savannahs and the arable lands on the upper reaches of the banks of our many rivers, for large agricultural plantations, with a focus on applications for agro-processing and agro-industries.”

Addressing issues in the sugar and rice industries, Minister Jordan said that the status quo of the sugar industry can neither be maintained nor sustained.  Jordan said “As currently structured, the industry would require Government’s support to the tune of $18.6B and $21.4B for the years 2017 and 2018, respectively. This is an untenable position, one that would seriously jeopardise the fiscal stance of the Government, while compromising resource allocation to other critical and important areas.”

Minister Jordan considers this to be “money wasted” and would not make an impact on operating losses and cash deficit status of the industry.

Meanwhile government has allocated $9B to support the financing of GuySuCo’s operations. This creates a total of $32B provided to the corporation since August 2015.

“Radical re-organising of the sugar industry is required as a matter of urgency, for the continued postponement of the hard decisions on GuySuCo’s future would result in the corporation incurring even more debts (estimated currently at $80 billion) and an escalation of the demands on the Treasury.”

A cabinet sub-committee that has been established has been tasked with providing recommendations and to examine all options and will make a full report to the Cabinet of Ministers with regards to GuySuCo shortly.

Moreover, with regards to rice, in 2017 the aim will be to diversify specialty rice more specifically the aromatic rice variety and increase emphasis on the development of value-added products such as rice/wheat flour blends, rice noodles, pasta, and pre-cooked rice products.

The Finance Minister pointed out that, “In order to improve the livelihoods and income of rice farmers, as well as contribute to our national food security, works are apace to decentralise the production of seed paddy and introduce new high-yielding rice. This will see the launch of candidate varieties of rice across the regions, and will be accompanied by specially designed research and extension programmes, formulated to improve productivity at all levels for farmers, millers, and exporters.”

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. These projects are included in the 2017 budget. The NDIA will be responsible for mapping all drainage and irrigation structures and systems.

Meanwhile the livestock and fisheries sub-sector will have the government’s attention as they continue to focus on animal health, through greater disease surveillance and control, genetic improvements for enhanced productivity and profitability of cattle, and animal production.

“The Government will train our veterinary diagnostic laboratory technicians in areas such as microbiology, serology, pathology, and molecular biology. Further, efforts will be made to enhance embryo transplant services, which play a critical role in producing pure-bred calves,” Jordan said.

In an effort to promote a more mature and well-rounded fisheries sub-sector, the option of deep sea fishing will be promoted.