“We will fix it” – Mustapha on ruins of agriculture sector

Agriculture Minister Zulfikar Mustapha has reaffirmed the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Government’s commitment to reverse damage done and resuscitate the agriculture sector which was poorly managed by the A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) during its tenure in office.

Agriculture Minister Zulfikar Mustapha

This was reiterated during his budget presentation on Thursday, when he highlighted the state of the agriculture industry the Party inherited.
“One is forced to ask whether it was deliberate, plain ignorance or a combination of both of how to ruin an important sector such as this. But we will fix it. Despite the damage they have done to the sector, we will fix it! We will fix it, because we are committed to our word that we gave to the Guyanese people,” he expressed.
Along with mediocre management, Mustapha zeroed in on the four closed sugar estates – which would later affect the economy and place thousands of persons on the breadline. This situation, he said, must be reversed.
He expressed, “APNU/AFC closed four sugar estates and sent home over 7000 sugar workers, with no alternative source of income…Closure of estates created an unprecedented economic situation, depriving the economy of billions, reducing sugar production by nearly 60 per cent, losing nearly the same amount in foreign exchange, and created a multitude of social problems. It seems APNU/AFC was punishing the sugar workers, their families, and their villages. We will not allow it.”
As outlined in Budget 2020, $5 billion is earmarked for the re-opening of Enmore, Rose Hall, and Skeldon Estates. The initial allocation of $3 billion will be spent on ‘field and factory resuscitation’.
“GuySuCo is, therefore, more than just the profitability of sugar estates. It must be considered beyond the balance sheet and be seen for the socio-economic entity it is…There are no doubts that GuySuCo has production challenges, low productivity, high cost of production, lack of competitiveness and poor management. The PPP/C is confident it can concentrate its efforts and achieve break-even status, ensure better management by appointing a new Board of Directors and ensure greater efficiency through necessary re-tooling, product diversification, and retraining where necessary,” Mustapha noted.
Along with increased taxation, the former Administration imposed increases on land rent and other charges to farmers in the Mahaica, Mahaicony, Abary Agricultural Development Authority (MMA/ADA). Land rents increased from $1000 to $7000 per acre every year. Drainage and irrigation charges increased from $2500 per acre to $8000 per acre every year.
Additionally, rent for cattle pastures increased from $487 per acre to $2500, annually. Some of these increases were over 600 per cent.
Mustapha said an examination of the once budding sector showed that inadequate amounts of materials was procured for repair works on the all-weather roads which serve more than 2300 rice farmers and 96,000 acres of rice. More than 650 miles of access dams were not maintained which eventually sent the cost of production up and even caused farmers to lose crops. This was followed by challenges with drainage and damage from the acoushi ants and lack of facilities such as abattoirs for slaughtering large animals.
As it relates to fogging machines – none was purchased over the past few years. Meanwhile, all seed distribution was stopped in rural and hinterland communities, which has significantly affected rural agricultural development. These initiatives will be resumed under the new government.
The Agriculture Minister indicated, “We will work collectively with farmers to ensure that repair and maintenance works are done to the required standards. The National Drainage and Irrigation Authority and the Mahaica, Mahaicony, Abary Agricultural Development Authority have been allocated G$8.8 billion, almost 60 per cent of the total budget of the Ministry of Agriculture to provide better drainage, to prevent flooding and [provide] better irrigation to improve agricultural productivity.”
A total of $112.9 million have been allocated for the maintenance of drainage and irrigation systems for farmers in the Mahaica, Mahaicony and Abary area. Budget 2020 will see the extension of the Onverwagt Access Road worth $25 million and $29 million for dams on the coastland. This urgent intervention would immediately make 91,580 acres of rice fields accessible, translating to a gain of $10.2 billion for the farmers for the current rice crop.
Assurances were made that the officials would aggressively address pests and diseases, such as the paddy bug that is affecting farmers. With input from these budgetary measures, rice production is projected to increase by four per cent to 709,082 metric tonnes.
In 2020, to increase access and reducing the cost of coconut planting material, plans are on stream to establish two coconut nurseries at Charity and Kairuni with the capacity to produce 25,000 additional seedings per year. In addition to National Agricultural Research and Extension Institute (NAREI) and Hope Estate providing planting materials, farmers would be trained to establish their own nurseries. Special incentives will also be made available for planting corn and soybean.
Mustapha said they were also looking to pursue agro-processing in a bid to reduce food loss and increase farmers’ income. Measures will also follow to maintain and sustain national food security and safety in the context of improving the quality of the livestock products and reducing domestic market prices to meet the need for the most vulnerable.
Addressing mismanagement in the fishing industry will start with the injection of $243 million in the Fisheries Department. This will be followed by a withdrawal of VAT and reduction in the costs of inputs.
“In the next five years, starting with Budget 2020, we will implement measures to promote a diversified agriculture-based economy, create more jobs, increase the income of farmers. This will be achieved by modernising and upgrading infrastructure, strengthening support services, robust marketing systems at local and international levels, increase Guyana’s market share by tapping into the US$5 billion food import bill of the Caricom Region,” the Minister detailed.