Govt. committed to eliminating hunger in Guyana
--Chandarpal By Wendella Davidson
Guyana Chronicle
October 1, 2001

THE Guyana Government is totally committed to eliminating hunger in all areas of Guyana, said Minister of Agriculture Navin Chandarpal in a presentation to mark the launching of Agriculture Month.

According to Chandarpal, Guyana is more fortunate than many countries when it comes to food security, and although there is poverty in Guyana, communities are often self-sufficient in the production of their food requirements.

“Thus, hunger is less prevalent in Guyana than a simple examination of poverty statistics would suggest. This is not to imply that hunger does not exist in Guyana. It is for this reason that we have chosen `Fight Against Hunger’ as the theme for our Agriculture Month,” said Minister Chandarpal.

He noted that the Social Impact Amelioration Programme (SIMAP), through its Health and Nutrition component and Food for Work programmes, has been very active in improving the nutritional status of disadvantaged communities.

“More recently, we launched a most important instrument in this fight against hunger -- our Poverty Reduction Strategy (PRS). The aim of this Strategy is to create a better standard of living for our people through the creation of a stable environment that is conducive to the reduction of poverty.

“As you all know, public consultations are presently being conducted throughout Guyana to ascertain the views of the people. Our strategy recognises the importance of agriculture in the fight against poverty and hunger and also emphasises the need to improve agricultural output in rural areas, both on the coast and interior,” Chandarpal said in this presentation.

He explained that the Ministry of Agriculture’s Poor Rural Communities Support Services Project is one very obvious example of the linkage between poverty reduction and improved agricultural output. This project aims to reduce poverty and hunger through improved agricultural production and income generation in Regions Two and Three. It covers such areas as extension, training, research, drainage and irrigation, credit facilities and other services in order to create an enabling environment for increased production.

“On a much wider scale,” Chandarpal stated, “the main achievements of the Ministry of Agriculture are in the creation of an enabling environment that is conducive to improved agricultural production and hence improved food security. Within this context, our most pressing concerns relate to infrastructural support and the regularisation of land tenure. We have invested heavily in these areas and our fervent desire is for the private sector to capitalise on these investments and embrace farming as a viable business activity.”

He continued: “Earlier this year, Guyana’s Lands and Surveys Commission was established and a new Commissioner appointed. This semi-autonomous body enjoys greater freedom than previously applied, and is undertaking a massive project to regularise land tenure, with assistance from the UK Department for International Development. This project has a particular focus on agricultural lands. Recent policy changes now mean that freehold title can be given for holdings of 15 acres or less, subject to a period of beneficial occupancy. Also, all new leases for State Lands are now for 50 rather than 25 years. (In total over 5,600 agricultural leases have been issued over the last eight years). Security of tenure is universally accepted as one of the most crucial factors in improving agricultural production, and we are committed to ensuring that all Guyana’s agricultural producers enjoy a stable and predictable land tenure situation.”

Minister Chandarpal said that agricultural production along the country’s fertile coastal zone would be near impossible in the absence of a Drainage and Irrigation system (D and I). The Ministry of Agriculture, in collaboration with many other stakeholders, including the National Drainage and Irrigation board, Regional Democratic Councils, Neighbourhood Democratic Councils, the Rice Producers Association and the Guyana Sugar Corporation, has been working assiduously towards improving the country’s D and I system.

“This is a massive undertaking, and obviously, not everything that needs to be done can be achieved simultaneously. The stakeholders must become more integrally involved and we are in the process of a pilot study aimed at testing and evaluating the performance of five Water Users Associations established in the MMA area,” the Agriculture Minister said.

“Guyana’s rice industry plays a dual role in our `Fight Against Hunger’. Firstly, rice is the staple food that a vast majority of Guyanese consume, and we are in the enviable position of being completely self-sufficient. Therefore our food security is less vulnerable to changes in international markets than our Caribbean neighbours, who are highly dependant on food imports. Secondly, the rice industry provides a livelihood for roughly 100,000 Guyanese farmers, labourers, millers, input suppliers and exporters. It is the second largest agricultural sub-sector in Guyana and accounts for 12 percent of our agricultural output.”

“We are all aware of the difficulties being experienced by our rice industry at present. Several initiatives are currently underway to tackle these problems. A ten-year Strategic Plan has been developed by the stakeholders of the industry. This Plan focuses on four areas, production, processing, marketing and support services and policy. It outlines specific Action Plans to achieve the objectives, however, requires that the financial situation of the industry be improved. It is in this context that the Government is currently engaged in discussions with Guyana’s Bankers Association to examine the proposals submitted by the Rice Committee. Significant progress has also been made on accessing the funding committed by the European Union to assist Guyana’s rice industry to become more competitive,” Chandarpal disclosed.

He said that the sugar industry has also experienced some turbulence linked to poor weather conditions and challenges to its export markets. “But, we have managed to keep afloat and alter our plans to ensure the sustainability of the industry. We have made much progress in moving our Strategic Plan forward with the support of the World Bank and our employees need not worry about the security of their jobs. We have met all our export markets and negotiated strongly with the European Union for a five-year new Preferential Sugar Agreement, 2001 to 2006, at higher price, (12 percent increase), than what existed in the past agreement. Sugar and molasses sales to the region continue to expand and we shall very soon be launching in Guyana and other Caribbean territories, our sachet and packaged sugar under the brand name ‘Genuine Demerara Sugar’.”

In conclusion, Minister Chandarpal said: “I have touched on just some of the happenings in the agricultural sector in this address to the nation. I shall be pleased to speak to you again on World Food day on October 16 at the Uitvlugt Community Centre, West Coast Demerara.

“I would just like to take this opportunity to encourage you all to participate in the various activities that will take place over the coming month and I particularly urge our school’s administrators to arrange for their students to visit the World Food Day exhibition. And to all our agricultural producers, I hope that this month will serve to demonstrate our deep appreciation for your untiring work for the benefit of our country. It gives me great pleasure to launch Agriculture Month 2001.”