The Intermediate Savannahs Editorial
Stabroek News
February 7, 2002

Straddling both sides of the Berbice river about one hundred miles from the coastal belt lie 600,000 acres of beautifully undulating savannah land, of which more than l20,000 acres have well drained easily mechanised soil which is responsive to various types of fertilisation. The fact that our coastland is becoming overcrowded with population, housing, industry, agriculture and livestock rearing, as well as the threat of ocean encroachment should tell planners that the Intermediate Savannahs (IS) represent our next and nearest new frontier for development.

Both Mr Burnham and Dr Cheddi Jagan, to their credit, immediately grasped the enormous potential for this large block of land, which could sustain two rain-fed cropping systems, and which could be a hub for the development of riverain communities and the townships of Linden, Ituni and Kwakwani. Unfortunately, their enthusiasm and vision for a whole new population shift did not translate into great action, not lastly because those most capable of developing projects were not infected with the same bold concepts. One will recall Dr Jagan's overtures to the Caricom Member States, exhorting their entrepreneurs to invest in the Intermediate Savannahs. Even after his death, Mrs Jagan attempted to popularise the legacy, but bureaucratic red tape and a distinct lack of will acted against all proposals. The Special Lands Applications and Evaluation Committee (SLAEC) and the reasonably well funded Intermediate Savannahs Projects (INSAP) and the slothfulness and the unwillingness of the Ministry of Agriculture itself to speedily grant incentives and make pertinent decisions all conspired to stymie the interest of potential investors. Several companies, which initially showed some interest, eventually put their money elsewhere. One Trinidad businessman who actually acquired 28,000 acres packed up and left without once turning the soil. The pioneers in large scale agriculture and animal husbandry at Dubulay Ranch waited for years to get their lease. To date, notwithstanding the acquisition of land by a few overseas entrepreneurs and a small handful of local investors, really nothing has been done to agriculturally exploit the inherent assets of the IS.

The lack of serious planning for the utilisation of the existing knowledge on the IS is a singular tragedy, especially since few areas in Guyana have been so thoroughly researched. Since the days of the cattle trail, along which the Rupununi herds trekked, investigations had been carried out at Ebini to ascertain the cause of death of animals during their stopover in the IS prior to the last movement to the Coast. The FAO had sent scientists in l95l (J.S. Mc Corkle) and again in l953 (P.G. Hogg) to assist in establishing pertinent Range Management techniques. These studies were extended in the mid-fifties by J.R. Goode. During the sixties and seventies, eminent Guyanese soil crops pasture and livestock scientists carried out extensive studies in these savannahs, some doing their doctorate theses on the IS. Names like H.A.D. Chesney, F. Downer, R. Fletcher, N. Holder, N. Ahmad, H. Ramdin, C. Edwards, C. Bullen, J. Piggott, N. Cumberbatch spring to mind. Many of these "Savannah Foxes" still live in Guyana. During the eighties and nineties the Scientists of the Caribbean Research and Development Institute (CARDI), notwithstanding the alignment of that organisation, made some meaningful contributions to the increase of knowledge of the IS.

Actual projects did emerge, for example the Kimbia cotton, Kibilibiri, Eberaobo and Caricom Corn and Soya Projects. If those undertakings can be considered failures, they still would have left enough documented experiences and empirical observation behind so as to stand new entrepreneurs in good stead. Later several substantial studies were undertaken to enhance knowledge on every aspect of the Savannahs. Most notable were the Institutional and Organisational Design (Clive Thomas), the IS Project Transportation Plan (Terrence Fletcher), the Agro-Industrial Project Profile for IS Development (CARIRI), Physical Infrastructure Planning for the IS Development (OAS), the Agri-Support Services Planning (J.A. Dummett), the Environmental Impact Assessment and Environmental Protection Plan for the IS (V.F.A. Broomes) and Agri Land Use Plan for the IS (D. Klautky and Associates). Add to these the myriad scientific publications on Hydrometeorology, Ecology, Soil Management, Crop Suitability and Livestock Rearing and it becomes clear that an abundance of information is available for practically any type of agricultural undertaking. Data exist on the potential of orchard crops (citrus, oil palm, carambola, coconuts, passion fruit) row crops, (Soybean, sorghum, maize, peanuts, pigeon peas, cowpeas), root crops (Cassava, sweet potatoes etc.,) forage crops, cereals and legumes. And anyone wanting to embark on large scale cattle and small ruminant production will find an abundance of information in NARI's library, or in the private collection of some of the older scientists and technicians, as well as on the bookshelves at IICA, CARDI, the OAS and Departments of the Ministry of Agriculture. Even some valuable information on agro forestry and eco-tourism exists.

So why, what with all this availability of knowledge and research material, is there no stampede of entrepreneurs to invest in the very agriculturally viable Intermediate Savannahs? The answer can be found in one word: Marketing - or lack thereof. For example, who knows that there exist duty-free and tax concessions for all agricultural equipment? The only stop-go-stop-dead stop attempt to excite serious local and foreign entrepreneurs was made during the relatively short life of INSAP. When only a few potential investors were identified and less responded to the call, panic and bad mouthing among the non-scientists became the order of the day. There was no fixity of purpose, no perseverance, not enough counter-arguments by scientists and knowledgeable administrators against the faint-hearted who controlled the purse strings and who unfortunately had no sense of the future.

It must be clear that there is a need to reactivate the INSAP(or a similar agency which understands agriculture and marketing) primarily to seek out and woo potential investors. Concomitantly, the SLAEC must be resuscitated and given the mandate to fast track the viable projects submitted. Stop this belief that offering chunks of land for serious development of the IS will give rise to a new breed of Latifundists.