Agriculture Ministry awaits word from new T&T Minister

Guyana-Trinidad land deal

Agriculture Minister Noel Holder
Agriculture Minister Noel Holder

With a new Administration in place in neighbouring Trinidad and Tobago (T&T), Guyana’s Agriculture Minister Noel Holder said he is yet to receive word from his counterpart Senator Clarence Rambharat, on the way forward for the Guyana-Trinidad land deal.

T&T’s Agriculture and Land Resources Minister, Senator Clarence Rambharat
T&T’s Agriculture and Land Resources Minister, Senator Clarence Rambharat

Back in 2013, and under previous Administration, Guyana and Trinidad signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), where Guyana committed to making available some 10,000 acres of land for farmers from the twin Island Republic for agricultural purposes.
However, that project is yet to be undertaken by Trinidad, although Guyana has maintained that it remains committed.
Speaking to Guyana Times on Friday, Minister Holder said his Ministry is still waiting to hear from the new Agriculture Minister there. Holder said he understands that the new Government may want to look over some of the projects in the pipeline, and to this he has no objection.
Asked the last time he communicated with officials there, Holder recalled that it was sometime last year.
Trinidad and Tobago’s former Finance Minister Larry Howai had announced back in 2013 that Guyana wouldprovide 10,000 acres of land in Berbice for immediate agricultural production and that “a further 90,000 acres of Guyana’s land would also be made available to T&T farmers. The whole idea was that investors in Port of Spain would be invited to farm the lands. Back in December 2014, investors from the twin-island republic visited and had begun screening Guyana’s landscape with particular focus on the Canje Basin and Intermediate Savannahs.
Discussions were then focused on investment incentives in Guyana, foreign agricultural investments here and the Trinidadian company Cooperative Citrus Growers, land availability, soil types and market trade logistics.
Though no agreement was signed, the Agriculture Minister, Dr Leslie Ramsammy had said the discussions had taken the countries one step closer to fulfilling the objective of the MoU, which was designed to facilitate T&T investment in Guyana for agricultural production.
According to him, the next step would have been the presentation of scoping proposals for potential investment even as dialogue continued between the two countries. He had also noted that while certain projects had been identified during another visit, the groups are still to submit their proposals to Guyana’s Government.
Dr Ramsammy and Trinidad’s former Food Production Minister Devant Maharaj had said the programme was developed to address the need to improve food security and reduce the high food import bill of the two countries.
Minister Holder had however said that there seems to be some reluctance on the part of Trinidad and Tobago to take up the offer. He said Guyana has large areas of land that could be developed and could be leased to investors at a small fee for development. As such, investors who have the financial capability can lease these large areas of available lands and create the infrastructure at their own cost. He said an MoU would outline the respective benefits for Guyana as well as the investor.
Ramsammy had said that the investment by T&T farmers in food production in Guyana would have been “a win-win situation, not only for Trinidad and Tobago, but for Guyana and the entire Caribbean.”
He said the provision of arable lands in Guyana is consistent with the “Jagdeo Initiative” which invites Caribbean Community (Caricom) nationals to invest in agriculture to ensure food security and reduce the region’s high food import bill.
T&T’s annual food import bill is pegged at US$4 billion. The areas under discussion, Ramsammy said, were for aqua-culture, and the production of rice, vegetables, and livestock. Trinidad’s annual fish import bill, he said, is in the region of US$100 million.
Apart from the production of rice, he said that one or two T&T investors are also interested in the production of corn and soya as stock for livestock and poultry feeds.
Because the mechanisms were not in place, he said the investments are still pending. If the region can produce its own corn and soya for stock feeds, he said that the price of poultry and livestock will also reduce.