Home Letters Progress made so far in agri sector (Part 2)
There has also been a push for the development of high-earning non-traditional crops. Budget 2020 had several incentives for the cultivation of corn and soya bean. NAREI has also intensified its efforts to promote the cultivation of a number of high income-earning non-traditional crops like broccoli and cauliflower. The agency has conducted several sensitisation programmes to help farmers prepare or transition their land for the cultivation of these superfoods.
With the challenges faced in the aquaculture sector, His Excellency President Dr. Mohamed Irfaan Ali recently announced that Government will soon launch an aquaculture master plan. Heads of Missions from countries with thriving aquaculture industries have been engaged, and specialists from these countries have been invited to work with Government to develop a plan best suited for Guyana.
As it relates to the sugar industry, since taking office, Government has been working to ensure positive changes are made within the sector. After taking office, Government immediately put systems in place to get things up and running at GuySuCo. An initial investment of $3B was made by Government to reopen the Rose Hall, Skeldon, and Enmore estates. An additional $4B was later injected into the sector to recapitalise the estates at Blairmont, Albion, and Uitvlugt. Operational assessments were carried out at each of the estates, and it was determined that the estates that were still allowed to operate were operating at 60% capacity.
Government made it clear that the first step for GuySuCo was to get it to a place where it can break even in terms of its production. A comprehensive plan for GuySuCo has since been developed, and is currently at the level of Cabinet for review.
It would be remiss of me to omit the fact that GuySuCo has also rehired hundreds of workers, most of whom were callously placed on the breadline when the estates were closed by the previous administration.
Shortly after taking office, Minister Mustapha sought Cabinet’s approval for $29M to commence rehabilitation works to several access dams in Regions Two, Three, Five, and Six. These works were considered urgent, as some 91,580 acres of rice fields were under threat due to inaccessible dams. Farmers would’ve suffered millions in losses if the Minister did not immediately put systems in place to carry out those works.
He then made recommendations, and Cabinet again approved the release of an additional $98 million to conduct urgent repairs on critical infrastructure in the Mahaica-Mahaicony-Abary Agricultural Development Authority, which is the largest agriculture scheme in the country. This injection saw the clearing of over 252 drains, and benefited approximately 96,000 acres of rice land in the area, and over 2300 farmers’ families within the Abary-Berbice and the Mahaica-Mahaicony blocks.
Mr. Editor, 12 of the 32 promises for the agriculture sector contained in the manifesto have already been achieved. The rates for land rentals and drainage and irrigation charges have been reversed to what they were in 2014, and agriculture machinery and inputs no longer attract value added tax. The Minister has also resumed the seed and acoushi ants bait distribution project.
In his first letter, the writer said, “Other than clearing some drains and quickly tending to flooding in several areas, nothing much has been happening in agriculture”. What the writer should be made aware of is that Government had made it clear that the 2020 budget was an emergency budget. In the agriculture sector, budget 2020 was designed to provide funds to carry out emergency works and prepare the sector for the transformative projects that would materialise once Budget 2021 is passed, and over the next five years.
Below is a list of 10 other meaningful interventions:
1. An initial sum of Gy$2.6M was spent to assist Essequibo rice farmers with paddy bug infestation.
2. Paddy Bug Action Units were established in five Regions.
3. Panama was finally engaged in regard to the outstanding $1.9B owed to Guyana for shipment of rice.
4. Noting the effects climate change is having on cultivation, a ‘Smart Agriculture Initiative’ was launched, so that farmers can procure shade-house materials at a cost price from NAREI.
5. A Vaisala Automatic Weather Station was installed at Saxacalli.
6. Assistance has been given to several farmers’ groups, like the Woodley Park Women’s Cash Crop Farmers Group, to help them with expanding their cultivation.
7. A $63M Fertiliser testing Lab has been commissioned.
8. Two new coconut nurseries have been established to decentralise access to quality planting materials.
9. Assistance in the form of fertilisers, chemicals, and other planting materials has been given to flood-affected farmers in the Pomeroon. And
10. Three contracts totalling $174M have been signed for the construction of a water conservancy in West Watooka, Region 10.
I encourage the writer to exercise patience and await the passage of Budget 2021. The proposed budget for the Ministry of Agriculture was developed to kick-start the sector. Several transformative projects and developmental investments have been included, and Guyanese can rest assured that Guyana’s agriculture sector will thrive.
In conclusion, I wish to extend an invitation to the writer to meet with the Honourable Minister if this letter lacks clarity in any way. He can also use the opportunity to present some facts on the claims made about demanding “taxes” on contractors, as I am unaware of this, and cannot make a pronouncement at this time because no names or concrete information was given.
Ministry of Agriculture