Finally utilising our savannahs

Even before the launch of the “25 by 25” food production programme led by President Dr Irfaan Ali to reduce the US$4 billion Caricom food bill by 25% by 2025, the Government had launched an initiative along with several Private Sector companies – the owners of Guyana Stock Feed Ltd, Royal Chicken, Edun Farms, SBM Wood, Dubulay Ranch, and Bounty Farm Ltd, along with the Brazilian-owned New  Frontier  Agriculture – to form a Public-Private Partnership (PPP) to produce soya and corn in our Intermediate Savannahs. The Government provided initial “infrastructural development” for the project by budgeting some $500 million for it, growing by over $1.2 billion by 2023. Fifty kilometres of roads to provide access to the crops have been built.
The venture was very successful and by 2023, had produced 162,000 tonnes of corn and soya bean. In collaboration with India, which is promoting the crop as a healthy solution to food security demands, 250 acres of millet growing to 1000 acres was added as another crop, and this also proved to be successful. By that time they were joined by another company, Farmlands Guyana Inc (FGI) – which owns 25,000 acres in the Intermediate Savannahs to launch another initial agricultural venture — 1000 acres of corn and soya beans. The Government has also built three 3000-tonne silos and one 80-tonne-per-hour drying tower at the Tacama Landing along the Berbice River, where the wharf has been rebuilt to handle the shipping of the crops.
Unfortunately, the Guyana savannahs are still  little known to most Guyanese who live on our coastlands and they are missing out on the opportunity to share in the success and ultimate boosted and sustainable earnings. Savannahs are the tropical equivalent of the temperate zone prairies of North America and the steppes of Eurasia – vast flat or undulating grasslands. More precisely, they have been defined as “a mixed woodland-grassland ecosystem characterised by the trees being sufficiently widely spaced so that the canopy  does not close. The open canopy allows sufficient light to reach the ground to support an unbroken herbaceous  layer consisting primarily of grasses.”
We have two sets of savannahs in Guyana. First are the Intermediate Savannahs in Region 10, which  cover approximately 2000 square miles or 500,000 hectares. It consists of 70 per cent forest and 25 per cent  savannah lands and comprises five discrete areas; the Kimbia/Ebini Savannah (East of the Berbice River); the Wiruni Savannah (West of the Berbice River); the Ituni/Tacama Savannah (West of the Berbice River); the Kibilibiri Savannah (West of the Berbice River) and the Eberoabo Savannah (West of the Berbice River). The second are found in the Rupununi (north and south) and are much larger at 6000 square miles. These are vast expanses of land into which each of the Caricom islands would easily fit.
Directly after independence, the PNC administration attempted to open up the Intermediate Savannahs for cultivation. The first effort was  the Global Agri  Kibilibiri grain project, which embarked on large- scale production of maize, sorghum, soyabean and black-eye peas.  Approximately 1400 acres was put under cultivation during which time ownership and management of the project was derogated to the State-owned Guyana Agricultural Products Corporation, which continued farming until 1978 and then collapsed. By then, the Government had moved on with a combination of state effort through the creation of the Guyana National Service (GNS) in 1974 and later private enterprise. The Dubulay Ranch, part of the 2021 consortium, was founded back in 1976 as a private venture. Unfortunately, all of these ventures collapsed like most PNC initiatives because of politization.
Since then, there have been regular attempts in every decade to creating a sustainable model for agricultural development of the savannahs to make Guyana into the “Breadbasket of the Caribbean”, to no avail. But the dream persisted and now is being realised through the commitment of the Government and the entrepreneurial spirit of businesses who are willing to undertake risks because they know there is a need for food that has to be satisfied and they can produce needed crops. The PPP – Public-Private  Partnership – model is clearly the way to go.