Poverty and hunger
Guyana Chronicle
October 17, 2002

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YESTERDAY, the world paused to reflect once again on the advances made in feeding the millions of dispossessed and marginalised people who eke out an existence on just US$2 a day. The leaders of the rich, industrialised states and the presidents and Chief Executive Officers of powerful financial institutions agreed years ago, that with more favourable trade terms and enlightened agricultural strategies and techniques scores of poor developing states would be better able to alleviate the worst manifestations of abject poverty such as malnutrition and high infant mortality rates. And while there have been measurable improvements in the material conditions of some groups of people, there are still huge sections of societies especially in Africa, Asia and Latin America in which masses of people live from day to day unsure of the direction of their next meal and totally devoid of the hope of improving their lives.

What is more frustrating is the reality that enough food is produced annually to ensure that most of the earthís population could be adequately fed. Modern agricultural techniques and state-of-the-art technology have made the United States a powerhouse of grain production. The Bush administration is subsidising American farmers to the tune of US$1 Billion a day. India, which decades ago launched a Green Revolution, is producing such amply harvests of grains that in the mid-1990s, the authorities began to worry about storage space for rice and wheat! Even in the Caribbean, where the food and beverage import bill is in the vicinity of US$1 Billion per year, there is a high level of post-harvest loss of fruit, vegetables and ground provision. In some islands, we have heard, hundreds of breadfruit are left to rot because some of the natives have not thought of a method of utilising the fruit in times of glut. Visitors to the farms in the Pomeroon area of Guyana are amazed at the amount of fruit and vegetables that are left to rot on the ground because farmers do not have the packing skills, the means of transportation or the incentive to devise ways of getting their produce to the marketing spots.

In the 1980s, the situation was truly heart-rending. At farms along the Soesdyke-Linden Highway and at Charity, visitors would see mounds and hills of hot red peppers, pineapples, watermelons, pumpkins and various citrus fruit. When asked about the hills of produce, farmers would sadly relate that personnel from the then Guyana Marketing Corporation (GMC) had visited them and even paid them for their produce. The agents, however, were unable to transport those mounds of precious produce, to the capital. What kind of incentive was that for a tiller of the soil? At that time, too, manufacturers of curry powder were reported to be spending thousands of dollars of hard currency importing a special kind of pepper from a sister CARICOM state.

At Paruima, a village in the upper reaches of the Mazaruni River, the soil is rich and red, and because of the cooler mountain climate, farmers there cultivate white potatoes and beautiful blue-hued onion. That area has a wonderful array of peas and beans not seen on the coastland. But the story there was just as depressing for the farmers were unable to charter aircraft to get their produce to the coastland. Other modes of transportation such as by water or overland, were not promising either because of the primeval landscape of mighty rivers and great mountains. The farmers often resorted to giving away most of their crops. The cashew nuts cultivated in the Rupununi are very tasty, and once they are processed and packaged attractively, that item could prove a money-spinner for the farmers there.

Guyana would be able to feed its people and still realise the dream of being the breadbasket of the Caribbean once the nationís farmers master the times for harvesting and strive for international standards.