Regionally, it is estimated that consumer food products account for over 50 per cent of the Caribbean’s annual imports from the United States, comprising mainly poultry, red meats, dairy products and processed fruits and vegetables. This volume of imports suggests that there is scope for substituting these products with increased domestic production. This can be facilitated by achieving greater economies of scale through the expansion of agriculture in the larger countries like Guyana.
For Caribbean countries, debt is a large percentage of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), exceeding the debt threshold estimated to hurt economic growth. And the food import bill, last estimated to be some US$4 billion annually, is a hefty portion of that troubling equation.
As such, to address these challenges, it was suggested that three key sectors – agriculture, transportation and telecommunications – need restructuring. In the case of Guyana, particularly in the area of agriculture, underexploited opportunities must be pursued. Guyana has long realised the opportunities inherent in her agriculture-friendly land, and, for more than a decade, has made several attempts to capitalise on nature’s bountiful blessings, in concert with sister Caricom nations.
The Administration, like its predecessors, has touted on numerous occasions that Guyana was once the breadbasket of the Caribbean and was striving to fill this role once again. To make the leap from the many plans conceived to spark this transformation, swift, concerted, consistent and holistic action is necessary.
It is no secret that major adjustments are needed in this challenging economic environment, marked by slower global demand. Perhaps this will force the revolution of thought and action required, particularly to address another major hindrance – most youths’ lack of interest in farming.
One school of thought is that diversifying the agricultural sector as a foundational pillar of a competitive economy will put Guyana in an advantageous position, given our huge land mass, abundant water resources, minimum of adverse weather phenomena and tradition of both cash crop and large-scale farming. However, to drive this competitiveness, Guyana must address constraints in key areas. Important among these is the cost of electricity, which is a major component of the cost of agro-processing. Consequently, reducing the cost of power and improving the reliability of supply will reduce significantly the cost of agro-processing, making it more attractive as a business venture. At this juncture, where the Private Sector and Government are at obvious loggerheads over several recent tax reforms, the Administration also needs to seek to mend the rift and design better policies in an effort to revitalise the business community. Chief among these should also be reform of a number of measures to improve doing business in Guyana. This will drive the Private Sector, the real engine of growth. To reposition Guyana as the breadbasket of the Caribbean in a competitive Region, these constraints must be addressed and the local agro sector must be motivated to produce consistently and to a high standard while embracing new technologies and farming methods. Likewise, larger investments are required in research and development, in order to facilitate the diversification of agro products. This will result in local products’ better performance in regional markets.
To regain our lost position as the bread basket of the Caribbean, certainly underexploited opportunities must be examined in a revolutionary manner by mending bridges with the Private Sector. Such a resolution with the business community will provide opportunities for marginalised groups to participate in, and benefit from, development.