Guyana's cattle industry poised for take off

Guyana Chronicle
June 3, 2001

GUYANA's cattle industry, which for many years has shown great potential for development, is now poised for take off following this country's certification of being free from Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD).

This could not have happened at a more opportune time when this country's main agricultural produce - rice and sugar - are encountering difficulties on the world market.

This achievement must be a significant one for the cattle industry in Guyana. The industry has always been regarded as a means of subsidising the income of rice farmers, with its producing belt located on the coastal plain.

At the end of December 2000, the cattle population on the coastal belt was about 220,000. The Intermediate Savannahs and the Rupununi Savannahs and a few smaller areas recorded a cattle population of about 35,000.

The traditional production system for cattle rearing has always been an integration of crops and livestock. Production by small farmers on the coastland continues to be practised mainly at the subsistence level as an income-generating activity in competition with sugar, rice, cash crop, construction, manufacturing etc. Nevertheless, small farmers account for over 60 per cent of the cattle population on the coastland with an average of about ten heads per household.

Continued efforts to develop the cattle industry witnessed the establishment of the National Dairy Development Programme (NDDP) which worked continuously towards development of the industry with initial focus on the dairy sector. But production was constrained due to several factors including the lack of export market as a result of a ban placed on Guyana. The ban was instituted because of isolated cases of Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) in the Rupununi Savannahs, the last of which occurred in 1978.

The response to these outbreaks was always quick, with personnel moving in from Georgetown to contain the spread. The process of eradicating the disease (particularly in 1978) involved corralling the animals in the area where the disease was diagnosed. Blood samples were then extracted and infected animals slaughtered and burnt/buried.

Since the institution of the ban, relevant legislation was enacted preventing the movement of live cloven feet animals from Region Nine to the coastland. But nothing was ever done to reclaim export status enjoyed by Guyana although the disease was brought permanently under control with immediacy.

With the realisation of the need to develop the cattle industry into a vibrant one with vast potential to contribute towards Guyana's economy apart from providing additional income through job creation, the PPP/Civic Government gave renewed attention to the need for capitalising on the existing cattle population and developing the industry into one which could realise its potential.

This effort took on new dimensions with the appointment of Mr. Satyadeow Sawh as Minister of Fisheries, Crops and Livestock in November, 1996.

He immediately set about laying the foundations for the creation of a vibrant cattle industry, to encourage a new focus on a sector least susceptible to inclement weather patterns.

This task began with primary focus on genetic improvement through artificial insemination using semen from superior breeds such as Holstein and Jersey for dairy and Angus and Charalois for beef. The Programme also embarked on the utilisation of improved forage with enhanced economic viability through a reinforced scheme of rotational grazing and cut-and-carry systems leading to increased production in cattle. Emphasis was also placed on using locally available feed resources such as molasses and rice bran among others easily classifying our beef as being of organic nature.

With increased cattle production and the realisation that independent Guyana has always been self sufficient in beef, the need for an export market oriented approach to further development of the industry became more apparent.

The first step in this direction was taken in 1997 when, as a pre-requisite, Guyana, subject to an annual subscription, successfully applied to the International Organisation of Epizootics for membership through the Ministry of Fisheries, Crops and Livestock. This new and privileged position assures Guyana assistance in cases of emergency, access to current and other technical and related literature and voting status.

Subsequent to Guyana's application for certification of freedom from FMD during 1997, and mandatory collection of serological samples from across the country for overseas testing, the Ministry was informed that the samples were all negative leading up to the point of certification.

Guyanese should note with pride that the application was declared as a model for other Third World countries to adopt when it was unanimously approved during the meeting of the International Organisation of Epizootics in September, 2000.

In this regard, we must gratefully acknowledge the contributions of the South American Commission for the Fight Against Foot and Mouth Disease (COSALFA), The hemispheric Commission for the Eradication of Foot and Mouth Disease (COHEFA), Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO), CARICOM Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED) and PANAFTOSA, the Brazilian scientific institution which tested Guyana's serological samples and found them negative. All of these institutions gave their unreserved support to Guyana's quest for certification of being free from Foot and Mouth Disease.

Cognisant of the outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease in many European countries and the need to keep this disease out of Guyana, the Ministry of Fisheries, Crops and Livestock instituted several immediate measures to prevent its entry into this country.

Mechanisms for sanitisation of the footwear and other necessary accessories entering Guyana has been implemented at all major ports of entry including the Cheddi Jagan International Airport, Timehri. FMD camps have been established at all border crossings to execute similar exercises including disinfecting the wheels of vehicles. Additionally, no fresh or processed meat products from FMD affected countries are allowed into Guyana.

And in light of the recent outbreaks of Foot and Mouth Disease in South Brazil, it is important to note that the Brazilian authorities have long since sanitised its entire border with Guyana. In addition, the cows in the Roraima Province have not exhibited a single FMD case in the 180km wide band of terrain contiguous to Guyana since the last outbreak here.

One may then want to know what happens in the event Foot and Mouth Disease does enter Guyana. Well, there is a detailed plan to deal with this highly unlikely possibility. The Ministry of Fisheries, Crops and Livestock in collaboration with related agencies has developed and stands ready to implement as `Emergency Animal Disease Preparedness Plan' which involves immediate control of animal movement, quarantine, slaughter and vaccination among other strategies.

Subject to compliance with certain pre-requisites, certification of being free of Foot and Mouth Disease clears the way for exportation of beef. The preconditions include installation of export oriented abattoirs, which conform to internationally acceptable standards without which exporters would be restricted to trade in live animals which Trinidad and Suriname have already expressed their readiness to engage in initially.

Maintaining its role as facilitator, the Ministry of Fisheries, Crops and Livestock has thrown out a challenge to the Private Sector to seize the opportunity of setting up such facilities in order to capitalise on the lucrative trade in processed (choice cuts) beef. Already, a few leading Guyanese businessmen are headed in this direction while one overseas entity has indicated the desire to invest in this area.

Given the above scenario, the major players in the cattle industry have to be cautious that the Belize mistake is not repeated in Guyana. In capitalising on their FMD free status, that country had seized the lucrative export opportunity and literally drained its cattle resource. The result was that they had to resort to importation to satisfy their domestic need for beef.

Certification of freedom from Foot and Mouth Disease for Guyana could not have come at a more opportune time when the cattle industry in almost all of Europe has taken a battering from the malady. This is the time when Guyana could establish itself as an exporter of beef and beef products in a strategic move, which could indeed result in the diversification away from traditional agriculture.

With this new avenue for new and increased investment in the cattle industry, all the players are encouraged to take hold of this opportunity and launch an intensive campaign aimed at increased production and income generation.

Anticipating the inevitable advantages of FMD free status, overseas investors have already broken ground in terms of engaging in discussions with the Ministry of Fisheries, Crops and Livestock and other relevant Government departments with one of them recently indicating keen desire to invest US$10M in the cattle sector.

The availability of land, suitable climate, export opportunities and the support of Government in every possible way must be viewed by Guyanese as the catalyst to propel them into investing in the now beckoning cattle industry. The world is waiting on Guyana's beef.