The bounties of the world can feed every human being on earth, yet in many countries people, especially children, who cannot fend for themselves, are slowly starving, often to death.
Graphic, grievous pictures proliferate on the Internet and in various media outlets, of intrepid media operatives’ brave forays in war-torn countries, revealing the suffering of millions of hungry adults and children.
The United Nations has designated June 7 as World Food Safety Day under the ambitious theme: “Safe food now for a healthy tomorrow;” but, given extant global dynamics, this ideal is far from being achievable in a global context.
Guyana was once described as “The food basket of the Caribbean”, but in years gone by food security had become collateral damage as the nation’s agriculture sector collapsed, some foodstuff essential to culinary needs and diets were banned, while importation of unrestricted food items became impossible because of unavailability of foreign currency.
After years of rebuilding, there was a turnaround in the agricultural sector and agro-based industries, to the extent that, long before a People’s National Congress (PNC)-led coalition again assumed administrative office in 2015, Guyana had achieved the UN Millennium Development Goal (MDG) on food security.
The rice industry was in its highest and most successful period prior to elections of May 2015. Guyana had reached 635,000 tonnes in 2014, but the first crop of 2016 failed to reach 300,000 tonnes, and the industry, and the entire agricultural sector in general, continued to rapidly decelerate.
Then President David Granger and his Agriculture Minister had proclaimed that the rice industry was “not Government business”.
According to the General Secretary of the Guyana Rice Producers Association (RPA), Dharamkumar Seeraj, liberalisation of the economy by the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Administration has facilitated growth in the agricultural sector.
He asserted that the liberalisation and free-trade policies initiated by the PPP/C Administration re-energised the sector; and the support of successive PPP/C Governments had been intensive, extensive, and impactful; albeit many of the enabling synergies had to be strenuously fought for against negative constraining factors by the coalition.
The decimation caused by the current catastrophic floods, just as farmers were gradually returning to the fields because the causes for concern that had driven them away from the agri and agro-processing sectors were being addressed, is not a deterrent to Guyana’s hardy farmers, because they know that the PPP/C Administration would utilise every empowerment and enabling facilitator to restore viability to their operations.
Climate change and other external factors have proven somewhat deleterious to the sector, but by and large, the rice industry in particular, and the agriculture sector in general are nowhere near the straits they were in 1990.
The Jagdeo Initiative on agriculture is a strategy for removing constraints to the development of agriculture in the Caribbean. It builds upon past regional efforts to develop a Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), and identifies 10 key binding constraints faced by the sector.
Subsequently, the Grow More Food Campaign was launched in 2009 to further boost food security in the country.
Head of Government in the Caribbean Community (Caricom) quasi-Cabinet with responsibility for Agriculture, Guyana’s President Irfaan Ali has said that the first step to ensuring food security and sustainability is to eat local, at a forerunner to the United Nations 2021 Food Systems Summit programmed for September as part of the Decade of Action to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030.
Dr Ali iterated that the fora create a platform for synchronisation of programmes to strengthen initiatives for food security and provide ameliorative solutions to the challenges of climate change.
It is within this context that one must judge the role Guyana’s Government is playing in empowering farmers and creating an enabling culture that has prioritised Guyana’s agricultural sector, and the attempt by then President Bharrat Jagdeo to address the issue of food security in Caricom, which is evocative of the PPP’s commitment to regional integration, especially as adumbrated by the CSME.