Ensuring food security

By M Z Ali
Guyana Chronicle
February 26, 2001

COGNISANT of the importance of providing food at bearable prices for the nation, in 1997 the government established the Ministry of Fisheries, Crops and Livestock under the leadership of Hon. Satyadeow Sawh.

From the word go, this Ministry set about its task with all Guyanese at heart, and in 1999, just two years after its establishment, non- traditional crops and the fisheries sub-sector contributed 22.1 per cent to total agricultural output with 6.4 per cent and 15.7 per cent respectively.

This relatively young Ministry did not contain its activities to the fish and vegetable culture, but also found innovated ways of improving and brining on board new techniques to aid those areas in the sub-sector which for years have been extinct or just limping along.

Cocoa, coconut, peanut, cashew nut, honey, oil palm and cassava are only some of the industries which come to mind that have been receiving attention, and are now blossoming to vibrancy.

With support from the Prince of Wales Fund, the Ministry embarked this year on organic farming when it rehabilitated 100 acres of cocoa plantations in Region One. Export of the commodity has already begun and it is estimated that by the year 2002, the target will be 50,000 pounds.

The cocoa success story is also reported in other areas of the country including the Berbice River and Timehri, while the National Agricultural Research Institute (NARI) is busy identifying other areas in Guyana where cocoa could be grown in commercial quantities.

According to a Ministry booklet, "a major element in the agricultural thrust is to make the research and extension services more responsive towards the needs of the farmer. In this regard NARI has increased its capacity and drive in making farmers aware of improvements in technology for production and post harvest handling of their crops."

The booklet states that the institute has developed technology to significantly increase the shelf life of perishable crops like cassava, breadfruit, papaw, pineapples and mangoes.

NARI is currently involved in promoting the cultivation of mushroom in Guyana with the use of Chinese technology.

Added emphasis is being placed on the production of peanut for which a programme has commenced in the Rupununi. This is by way of a joint effort by the Ministry of Fisheries, Crops and Livestock and the Inter Amrican Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture to improve both quality and volume of the product and satisfy local and overseas markets.

Region Nine is also involved in the processing of Cashew Nut. This project aims at enhancing production and introducing innovative Cashew Nut roasting methods. This product has already found itself on the local market.

In addition many other local commodities which were forced to phase out due to neglect by the previous PNC administration are now getting new life, and moves are underway to get the honey, cut flower and palm oil and cassava industries kicking again, creating employment and food for our people.

The coconut industry is once again rolling, No more do we see coconut estates with long stretches of coconut trees abandoned. Coconut farmers are once again going back to their plantations, recognising the fact that coconut is the third largest crop activity in Guyana.

The Ministry of Fisheries, Crops and Livestock, through its extension programmes are educating farmers to ensure proper copra production, since the world market for this product demands top quality standard.

It is estimated that some 35,000 acres of coconuts are under cultivation and this produces about 120 million nuts. The fruit is found in large quantities in Regions Two, Three, Four, Five and Six with farmers in the Pomeroon in Region Two producing almost 25,000,000 pounds of copra per year.

With the commissioning of the $350M Pomeroon Oil Mill at Charity in 1999, farmers throughout Guyana, and especially those on the Essequibo access ready market for their copra. Apart from exporting crude, the Pomeroon Oil Mill is also producing edible oil for the local market.

In a move to help coconut farmers, the Ministry of Fisheries, Crops and Livestock, the Ministry of Trade and the Pomeroon Oil Mills have been working together to secure markets outside Guyana for oil and copra. They are also looking at the smuggling of oil which could have a negative effect on local oil production.

Recently coconut farmers got added confidence with the establishment of the Sococo Inc. at the Coldingen Industrial estate on the East Coast Demerara. This factory which produces canned coconut milk has also given the industry a big boost.

The agriculture sector and sub-sector continue to show their importance. All year round there are abundant supplies of fresh vegetables, fruits, ground provision, both fresh and salt water fish and shrimp, beef, pork, poultry meat and eggs among others things. A visit to the markets countrywide will testify to this as Guyanese are given the opportunity to choose from a variety of these items at affordable prices.

Last year poultry meat production recorded 25,939,421 pounds, while 30,118,579 table eggs were produced to satisfy local demands. These figures are expected to grow this year and this would lead to a halt in the importation of these commodities and the entire poultry needs will fall into the hands of local farmers.

At the moment Guyana is self-sufficient in eggs, so much so that the country has commenced the exportation of this commodity to neighbouring Suriname. In poultry meat production, we are 60 to 80 per cent self-sufficient.

The poultry industry has been growing from strength to strength since 1993, and today the assets of the entire industry stands at $US30M. The assets comprise 3,400 enterprises including 300 pluck shops, four processing plants, 50 commercial farms, 300 small farmers, 12 hatcheries, 80 trucks and 4 stockfeed factories with an employment roll of some 5,000.

Duck meat production is also one of our food sources, and farmers across Guyana are getting more and more involved in the rearing of ducks. In 1999 NARI sold a record72,755 ducklings to farmers all over Guyana. This represents a 431 percent increase over 1998 when farmers bought 16,856 ducklings. With this new interest in ducks, this upward trend is expected to continue.

Indications are that seafoods will continue to hold its end in helping to feed the nation and at the same time retain its importance as a major foreign currency earner as this sector maintains its prominence. 1999 figures reveal that 41,250.8 tonnes of fish and 1,595.2 tonnes of prawns were produced. Small shrimps also recorded production figures 12,790.8 tonnes the same year.

Up to the first quarter of last year, production figures were fish 5,386.4 tonnes; prawns 521.6 tonnes, and small shrimp 3,016.3 tonnes. Seafood exports grew from $US45.3 million in 1998 to $US50.1 million in 1999, and up to the end of September last year export earnings of the three commodities amounted to $5.7B (G).

Aquaculture, a relatively new type of fish culture in Guyana is beginning to gain tremendous ground. Currently the largest freshwater aquaculture demonstration far and training centre in the Caribbean is taking shape at Mon Repos on the East Coast Demerara. This complex is being set up to promote fresh water aquaculture development by providing on site training for farmers.

The importance of aquaculture is reflected in the number of acres involved in this. Cultivated acreage rose from 2.5 acres in 1992 to over 2000 to date.

Two of our main crops, rice and sugar have also been doing well over the past few years. Guyanese consumers have always had their more than fair share of these two commodities to satisfy their daily needs since 1993.

Sugar production last year scaled 273,205 tonnes, the second highest in eighteen years, while the target set for this year is 293,000 tonnes. Last year sugar brought in $19.7B (G) in export earnings.

Rice production last year reached 291,839 tonnes, 207,638 tonnes of which were exported, bringing in $US51.7M in revenues to the country. Both rice and sugar continue to be major sources of foreign exchange earnings for Guyana.

The options are limitless for this Ministry and indicators are pointing to a wide range of incentives to promote activities in this sector. All indications are that Guyana would be known not only for its rice and sugar, but also quality fruits and vegetables which decorate the Guyanese landscape all year round.

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