In his first official visit to Guyana, Assistant Director-General and FAO Regional Representative for Latin America and the Caribbean, Dr. Julio A. Berdegué, stated that his visit to the country is an indication of the Food and Agriculture Organisation’s (FAO’s) commitment to strengthening its collaboration with Guyana and working along with the Guyana Government to improve our agricultural sector.
Dr Berdegué indicated there are several reasons why the FAO intends to heighten its presence and relations with Guyana, chief among them being the recognition of Guyana’s potential as a food-producing magnate, and how it could help in curbing the growing food importation bill of the Caribbean Region.
“Right now, the Caribbean is spending [$943 billion] US$4.5 billion each year, to buy food that it could be growing in the sub-region. Guyana is a fundamental part of the solution to this problem. Few other countries in the Caribbean, if any, have the production potential of Guyana. We are here to help the Government of Guyana, the farmers, the private sector, civil society to modernise this largely untapped potential, because it is critical not only to the benefit of this country, but for the welfare of the whole Caribbean region,” he said.
According to the Department of Public Information (DPI), Dr. Berdegué also indicated that the FAO’s goal is gearing the country and the Caribbean region towards eating healthier foods, as the issue of obesity and overweight affects more than 50 per cent of the Guyanese population.
“It’s not just about producing food, we need to make sure we are producing healthy foods for healthy diets. Because another thing which is literally killing the Caribbean population, the main source of death today in the Caribbean, are diseases associated with a runaway epidemic of overweight and obesity,” he continued. “Forty-nine per cent of the population of Guyana is overweight, 20 per cent of the population of this country is obese.”
He used these statistics to highlight that while it is important to increase production, it is also essential that we are producing healthy foods which can help to nourish the population.
He noted that our ability to produce these foods may be under threat due to the imposing effects of climate change. He explained that according to studies, by the year 2030, fifty per cent of the surface area of the Caribbean and Latin America will reach the critical threshold of 1.5 degrees higher temperature. As such, the FAO is committed to working with the Government of Guyana, the University of Guyana, and the Private Sector to find and implement real solutions to the threats faced by climate change.
Meanwhile, FAO Representative for Guyana, Gillian Smith, explained that the organisation is working at the grassroots level to aid farmers in their production practices.
“FAO is working with farmers particularly in the area of building their resilience, their resilience to climate change. Even with the production levels that we have, one of the things that we really want to work on is how to maintain and improve those, looking at climate-smart agricultural practices,” Smith said.
The Government has been working on these climate smart agricultural practices. For example, in the community of Paruima — an Indigenous farming village in the Cuyuni-Mazaruni area of Guyana which was the beneficiary of a new shade house facility, a cassava seed bank, as well as training and support in climate-smart agricultural practices.