Director General of the Ministry of Agriculture, Madanlall Ramraj’s presentation on ‘Innovation and Digital Agriculture’ during day 3 of the XXXVI FAO Regional Conference.

Honorable Ministers of Latin America Region and the Caribbean,

Distinguished Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Agriculture sustains the majority of rural livelihoods in Guyana. However, our agri-food system lags in comparison to the other sectors in adopting digitalization.  Investing in digital technologies tends to be knowledge-intensive and expensive. They come with operational risks and the need for continued monitoring and updating that are often very demanding for traditional small farmers. Additionally, many agricultural regions in Guyana are remote and accessibility is difficult. There are also challenges of e-infrastructure and connectivity.   According to the ICT Development Index, in 2017 approximately 34% of Guyanese have access to the internet. This is far below the regional average.

However, the government intends to change this with our infrastructure plan. Moreover, Guyana has recently liberalized its telecommunication industry, this will allow for faster internet, more efficient, less costly, and better bandwidth. In anticipation of this, it is important to start preparing rural area farmers, especially youth, to use digital technologies that have been developed for increasing agriculture productivity.

This is especially relevant now in times of COVID-19 pandemic.

Our farmers need accurate local weather forecasts, advice on agricultural practices, input use, including the use of agricultural tools with digital technologies embedded in them, and real-time information about prices and market logistics. Access to digital tools and updated production and market information will allow farmers to be more productive and competitive. While we have some achievements in these areas, we need to establish outreach programs that include more of these technologies. This requires training of agricultural technology specialists in these technologies and promoting their availability through a joint effort with the private sector.

Thus, recognizing that ICTs can be highly complex and require proper training in its operation and maintenance Guyana requests that the FAO expand their programs in the region in these areas. There is a need for specialized staff at the level of the ministry, in the identified agrotechnological areas, that will be able to train farmers. Also, there is a need for consideration of incentives for farmers to access digital tools.

Therefore, harnessing the rapid growth of the internet and associated digital technologies such as mobile phones, soil testing kits, digital planting, and harvesting equipment,  would be critical in helping farmers to obtain the information they need in making farm management decisions and promoting transformative agricultural development.

We, therefore, request greater assistance from the FAO and other development partners to strengthen our technical capacities to develop innovative and digital policy agendas, increase usage of digital and innovative agriculture practices for access to extension services, farmers and agro-processors, improving the marketing of outputs, and facilitating logistics.

As we work globally to adopt increased food security and agricultural innovation policies, digitalization and the development of an innovative agriculture system will be needed to increase efficiency and productivity in the sector as safe, affordable, and nutritious food is made available to the population.

A review of our Agriculture Disaster Risk Management strategy is necessary to ensure that updated ICTs are being promoted to ensure that there is access to all relevant information on time that can minimize the effects of disasters in the agriculture sector.

Additionally, with the support of FAO TCP resources, we are currently implementing “Strengthening the rice-production monitoring system in Guyana and investigating value chain opportunities” to improve the rice-production monitoring system and training of relevant staff in the use of the upgraded system. We aim to extend this to other important sub-sectors.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, there is an undeniable need to strengthen our agriculture research and technological innovation systems. For the region to move forward together, where no country is left behind, initiatives at both the national and regional levels are important.

The suggested actions by the Regional Conference are welcomed initiatives to improve agriculture development in Guyana and the region. Particularly we support the concept of the International Digital Council for Food and Agriculture and call for the establishment of the Council.