Agriculture and development
October 23, 2003
WE'RE coming to the end of our commemoration of Agriculture Month 2003. But at the conclusion of a month of activities reflecting on the evolution of agriculture in Guyana dawns an era in which private stakeholders and the Government will strive to realize the country's great farm potentials.
Agriculture has been synonymous with the shaping of mankind's social organization as far back as the creation of man.
The history of agriculture in Guyana might have begun with Amerindians in British Guiana hunting and engaging in subsistence farming. And as we still see sometimes, cooking wild meats and farm produce brought together people around the fire - and thus food consumption became a community feature.
Commercial farming probably began when Dutch colonialists founded the sugar industry in 1658 in the Pomeroon, under the aegis of the Dutch West India Company.
The sugar industry has come a mighty long way since then. But so also has the agriculture sector in general.
As we speak, the food and agriculture industry accounts for a large percentage of the national wealth, employing tens of thousands of people and generating another significant percentage of the country's imports and exports.
GO-INVEST doesn't give figures, but a preliminary review of foreign direct invests in Guyana in 2002-03 recorded by the one-stop investment-facilitating agency indicates that investments in agriculture by businesspeople from six countries - France, the Philippines, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, China, the United States and Trinidad and Tobago - partially account for Guyana ranking 17th in the world for inward FDI (foreign direct investment) performance.
It's the reason, too, why agriculture contributes so much to Guyana's GDP.
But if agriculture is to play a greater role in Guyana's development, even more attention has to be focused on agro-industrial investments. And the best place for these investments to take place is the country's intermediate savannahs.
Not only is the intermediate savannahs vast; it is also endowed with a large expanse of arable land.
Although first utilized in the 1940s, only about 10,000 of its 50,000 (125,000 acres) hectares of suitable agriculture land had been commercially occupied by April of 1998. That was the year Government published a package of incentives meant to woo investors to the wealth of opportunities that abound in what has been described as "Guyana's second agricultural frontier."
Of the other 200,000 (475,000 acres) hectares, the intermediate savannahs are a haven for cattle rearing/ranching and agro-industries.
An industrial centre and the Moco Moco Hydropower Station at Lethem can facilitate initial infrastructure services.
The Organization of American States (OAS) collaborated with the Government in publishing a project profile of the Intermediate Savannahs Project (INSAP) in October of 1998, so the initiative has already had the blessings of the international community.
We look forward to seeing agro-industry exceeding farming and fishing output, playing a much more important part in the overall development of the Guyanese economy - through its contribution to the country's GDP, employment and foreign exchange earnings.
We are just as optimistic that equal emphasis will be placed on the utilization, intensification and/or expansion of agriculture in other hinterland areas, where virgin soil abounds and can generate similarly lucrative yields.