During a series of virtual meetings with several Private Sector bodies, Agriculture Minister Zulfikar Mustapha maintained Government’s position to collaborate with all the relevant stakeholders to ensure the agriculture sector in Guyana advances.
Minister Mustapha, earlier today met with members of the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI), the Private Sector Commission (PSC) and the American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), where a number of issues and areas for collaborations were discussed.
One of the main areas for discussion was the sugar industry, Government’s progress in reopening the closed sugar estates and the lack of transparency in key agencies under the ministry’s umbrella.
Minister Mustapha reaffirmed Government’s intention to get GuySuCo back to a profitable status and to address all discrepancies those agencies.
“I have to ensure GuySuCo works. My main objective is to ensure we break even and achieve profitability. We have to be very transparent and accountable and as Minister, I will ensure that happens in GuySuCo and other industries too. I’m looking at the National Drainage and Irrigation Authority (NDIA). There is a serious problem in the NDIA procurement system, especially in the tendering and awarding of contracts. All these discrepancies will be addressed,” Minister Mustapha said.
President of the Rupununi Chamber of Commerce, Daniel Gajie spoke of his experience in agriculture in the Region. He applauded the Minister’s work since taking office and encouraged him to ensure he works to address some of the issues affecting the sector in the Rupununi.
“Whatever plans have been developed in the past haven’t worked and we have to look at the entire Rupununi strategy for agriculture. It has to be done with some amount of consultations with all the relevant stakeholders. Unfortunately, some of the officers from the key agricultural agencies are not seeing consultation with the Chamber as an important aspect to agricultural development in the Rupununi. We need to work on this,” Mr. Ganjie said.
In offering a response, Minister Mustapha informed the representatives that he will ensure meaningful collaborations are done and that the systems of the past will not be adopted under this new administration. He also informed them that he will be visiting the Region shortly and a committee will be developed in the Region to ensure private sector participation.
Timothy Tucker, Senior Vice President and Chairman of the Trade and Investment Committee of the GCCI, also highlighted some of the issues private sector is facing as it relates to exports.
“Minister, over the years we’ve been working with persons, assisting with exports to the Region. Some of the issues, as you are aware, are with the export of our honey, pumpkins, peppers, etc. There is need for a certification facility so that our local producers can have their products tested and to a standard where it is accepted in Regional and International markets,” Mr. Tucker said
In responding to Mr. Tucker, the subject Minister said that Government is aware of the need for such a facility.
“I know many agro-processors have to spend large sums of money to have their products certified in other countries. Government is looking towards having such a facility established so that our agro-processors and exporters can have their products certified locally. The Guyana Rice Development Board (GRDB) has a certification lab and we will ensure that such a facility is established for other products,” Minister Mustapha said.
Noting the struggles faced by many persons involve in the production of various goods and services, Government through its 2020 emergency budget immediately put systems in place to tackle some of the issues. The removal of Value Added Tax (VAT) from water, electricity, agricultural machinery and inputs and the reversal of land rental fees and drainage and irrigation charges were just some of the interventions coming out of Budget 2020.
PSC representative, Edward Boyer commended Government for its responsive approach to addressing farmers’ hardships as it relates to increased taxes and land fees instituted by the previous administration.
“I must commend you. From the 2nd of August to date, the changes in Agriculture the sector; your approach to getting out there to understand what are the issues with the farmers and the whole industry. I’m so impressed that I must pay you my compliments. People are talking about the change. For example, the land rates. Your immediate interventions such as the reversal of land rentals and drainage and irrigation charges; these steps are notably bringing people back to the land,” Mr. Boyer said
Minister Mustapha also disclosed that Government is working to develop policies to address other issues faced by the productive sector such as need for technology and technical knowledge, lack of financing, access to raw materials and the high cost of production due to electricity and taxation.
Traditional and Non-Traditional Products
The Ministry of Agriculture is in the process of developing a five-year strategy to address the developmental needs of the traditional and non-traditional sectors. This will ensure the necessary attention and resources are injected into these sectors and that long term and sustainable development is achieved.
Minister Mustapha, while acknowledging the importance of developing the non-traditional sector, noted that the main objective of the Ministry, at this point in time, is to address the issues plaguing the traditional sector.
“It would be useless for us to dive into another sector right now when our traditional sector is not in the right place and needs attention. We are working on the policies outlined in our manifesto to develop strategies and soon we will have a draft document outlining our plans to advance the sector, which will be shared with private sector bodies for their inputs,” Minister Mustapha said.
AmCham President, Zulfikar Ally, in offering the Commission’s support of the sector, informed Minister Mustapha that a lot of their members have expressed interest in investing in the sector, particularly in the sugar industry. Mr. Ally made mention of particular interest by an American company to work with government to assist with the reopening of one of the sugar estates.
Minister welcomed these interests, adding that Government is open to working with private sector and international investors to ensure Guyana gets the best out of any investments made towards the sugar industry.
Agricultural development in Region 8
With Government looking to expand and develop agriculture in Region Eight, Minister Mustapha during his engagement with representatives from the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), informed the team that the Ministry is in the process of preparing a proposal targeting agricultural development in the Region.
Once completed, the proposal will be shared with the agency seeking approval in areas of funding under the Hinterland Environmentally Sustainable Agricultural Development (HESAD) Project.
The Ministry is also working to strengthen Guyana’s food chain system, sustain its food security and restructure the entire agricultural system through projects that will enhance the livelihoods of all Guyanese.
Minister Mustapha also informed the IFAD team that the Ministry is aggressively working have the agricultural censes completed.
“We are hoping to commence the census in 2021. We know for a fact that there hasn’t been an agriculture censes since the 1950. We will be working with our international partners to ensure we get this done soon,” Minister Mustapha said.