Reading that “Guyana targets aquaculture, soya, poultry (in order) to cut food import bill,” is very heartening. This utterance came from President Dr. Irfaan Ali, who delivered the keynote address at the inaugural Agri-Investment Forum and Expo.
His audience comprised regional Heads of Governments and their Cabinet members; Caribbean Community officials; diplomats; dignitaries, and invited guests, who were seated at the Arthur Chung Convention Center this past Thursday. The address was timely, and it got the deserved attention of our leaders in the region.
Now, I want to put things in perspective, so that we can grasp the import of what President Ali really said. According to the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2021 report, “Projections now show the world is not on track to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 2, Zero Hunger, by 2030, and despite some progress, most indicators are also showing not on track to meet global nutrition targets. The food security and nutritional status of the most vulnerable population groups is likely to deteriorate further, due to the health and socio-economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic”.
I hope this would remain with us, and motivate us to rally behind the efforts that are ongoing in Guyana.
The inner details from the expo show that “Guyana is looking to upscale its food production in key areas, to avoid the pitfalls of food insecurity challenges.” This is like a go-go-now situation, more so that it is not only the effects of the global pandemic that we have to counter, but the escalating war between Russia and Ukraine. With this background, “President Ali pointed out that Guyana will (rightly) invest heavily in areas such as fisheries. The reason is that, “By 2030, less than 50 percent of the marine stock will be fished sustainably,” and thus proper management measures are necessary, even as climate change will push numbers further downwards. After all, Guyana, and the region by extension, wants to minimise imports, and hence aquaculture production and expansion must be pushed extensively.
The staggering truth is that, “In 2020, close to 100 metric tons of fish and fish products were imported, amounting to close to US$340 million.” This is draining us. It is therefore vital that we grasp the necessity of pressing on quickly towards “…improved management of the fisheries and investment in aquaculture, in order to supply farm fresh and salt water species to replace declining catches.” I mean, we have no other choice, except to face dire circumstances.
I feel very optimistic that we can make it, as more than G$100 million has been invested in brackish water shrimp production. This is proving a good move so far, as it has realised an increase from 250,000 kilograms a year ago to 1.2 million kilograms in the same time frame. The world as we know it is that some additional G$150 million is expected to be invested in this said area to boost production by more than 50 percent, while some $40M will be invested in state research and green programmes of indigenous freshwater species of fish, of which trials have already begun. This kind of incremental investment shows wisdom and futuristic thinking, and that is the safe way to go.
In fact, as of the present, some 50,000 metric tons of poultry are being produced in Guyana, but (thank God) that number is projected to reach 90,000 metric tons by 2025. In the area of corn and soya, the figure stands at 4300 metric tons, but here, too, that is likely to increase, reaching some 35,000 metric tons by 2025. The signs are good, and things will, in all likelihood, continue the upward trend. This is because of a whopping G$651 million to be allocated to develop the area deemed a “consortium” of farmers.
I will not belabour the issue, so I close with a most importunate reality, that is, “We cannot continue thinking of agriculture, the environment, health, poverty and hunger in isolation.” This is according to Gilbert F. Houngbo, President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), who spoke at the virtual launch of the report. He added that “World problems are interconnected, and the solutions are intertwined.
The current pandemic is a wake-up call to all of us.” Guyana, as we can see, is on the right track.