Agriculture, governance dominate Region Five poverty consultations By Daniel DaCosta
Stabroek News
September 29, 2001

Economic issues, concerns over governance and problems affecting the agriculture sector were the main areas of focus when the regional consultations on the Poverty Reduction Strategy for Region Five (West Berbice/Mahaica) were held at the Bush Lot Secondary School, West Coast Berbice recently.

A National Review Forum is expected to be held on Monday at Le Meridien Pegasus Hotel at which five representatives from each region will participate.

Problems in Region Five affecting education, health, housing and water supply were also discussed and several recommendations and possible solutions tabled by participants during the consultations.

Among the priority issues affecting the agriculture sector were poor farm-to-market roads, inadequate drainage and irrigation infrastructure, the high cost of production, excessive interest rates on loans, unavailability of loans for small farmers, poor marketing facilities, unsatisfactory maintenance of the Mahaica/Mahaicony/Abary Agricultural Development Authority (MMA/ADA), the steep cost of transportation, the increase in pests and diseases, inappropriate techniques in agriculture and ineffective zoning policy and the absence of a Development Bank.

Among the recommendations were the need to build all-weather roads, re-design the drainage and irrigation system to prevent flooding, provide training for farmers, complete the MMA/ADA Scheme, reduce the cost of inputs, improve the maintenance of the MMA/ADA Scheme, provide incentives for farmers and waive the interest on loans. Participants also called for loans to be made available to small farmers with low interest and medium to long term repayment schedules; government to assist in providing transportation for farm produce and speeding up land surveys to facilitate the issuance of transports.

In relation to good governance, participants alluded to "too much political interference" in the running of the different sub-sectors, lack of confidence in the Police Force and the judicial system, poor management and administration of the rice industry, non-involvement of the community in development activities, unfair distribution of house lots and farm lands, lack of access to telecommunications and poor administration and discrimination in the allocation of funds for sports and recreational facilities.

The recommended solutions included instilling confidence in all professionals and setting up a conducive environment for managing the different sub-sectors; prudent management and administration of the rice industry with minimal political interference and involvement of the community in development activities.

They also suggested that drainage and irrigation operatives should be better managed and made accountable to the users; government should provide a favourable economic climate for business and investment and should break the lone telephone company's monopoly of the telecommunications sector.

Better administration and just allocation of funds and the widening of the tax net were among other recommendations made to improve governance.

Under education, participants called for the re-introduction of free education from nursery to university; a secondary school to be built at the Number 8 Village; implementation of state-sponsored programmes to assist less fortunate children; establishment of boards to administer the affairs of schools and the equipping of laboratories with modern equipment.

The need for more community and school libraries; better remuneration packages for teachers; more adult education programmes; equal distribution of trained teachers among schools and provision of a level playing field in the distribution of resources for education were also among their recommendations.

Participants called for the construction of new health centres and the rehabilitation of existing ones; the employment of more doctors in the region including specialists; a functioning X-Ray Department at Fort Wellington; the management of health facilities by broad-based committees and the provision of adequate equipment and drugs at hospitals in the region.

Under housing and water, the participants suggested a reduction in the cost of house lots; opening of new housing areas; improving the electricity supply; construction of all-weather roads; setting up street lights; reduction in water rates; building of overhead tanks in villages and dual power source pumping stations for GUYWA. Under sanitation, the need to provide better sanitary blocks at schools; the identification of specific places for garbage disposal and adequate drainage facilities were among some of the recommendations.