Sustainable growth through sustainable agriculture
Guyana Chronicle
December 30, 2003

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SPEAKING recently at a workshop on sustainable agriculture and rural development, President Bharrat Jagdeo noted that, "if we look at agriculture in the perspective of food security and promoting social stability, then it is imperative that government turns to the sector and supports it.

"At least we can feed our people and no decision made in another part of the world would decimate the sector. It would decimate the export agricultural sector but not from that perspective, and this is why I think we have to fight to put agriculture back on the agenda, even at the level of Heads of Government."

President Jagdeo was addressing a CARICOM Heads of Government workshop in October.

What he said is a reflection of government policy - a policy that has been in force since the earliest days of the PPP in government. The several administrations of the PPP have steadfastly supported and encouraged the growth of agriculture and, in particular, diversified agriculture.

Guyana is the only CARICOM country that can amply feed itself and provide food for export to the Caribbean, which it does.

Most Caribbean nations have to import many basic food commodities. In fact, as we write, CARICOM member countries are devising ways to grapple with an annual US$3 billion food imports bill that is putting tremendous strains on their economies.

At a function here in October coinciding with Caribbean Agriculture Week, CARICOM's Adviser on Agriculture, Sam Lawrence, issued a wake-up call when he warned that, in addition to 25 percent of the Caribbean's 7 million inhabitants being classified as poor, starvation "is creeping up on the region"!

That is not so in Guyana, which can produce almost all of the foods we eat.

The resuscitation of the Government Produce section, which at one time was a flourishing part of the government's agricultural policy, but which was bombed out by the previous administration, can play an important role in purchasing farm products and selling such foods, to the advantage of both producer and consumer.

One has only to go to any of the markets in Georgetown, Parika, Charity, Mon Repos, New Amsterdam, Corriverton, Wismar, etc. and see the abundance of local produce, including not only a vast array of provisions and fruits and vegetables, but also fish, chicken, mutton, beef, pork, eggs, rice, dried beans, peanuts, cooking oils, and coffee.

We are fortunate to have producers who have stayed on the soil instead of moving to the urban areas, as many do in other parts of the world, thus abandoning their farms.

We are also fortunate to have a government that cares about the farming community and that spends large amounts annually to upgrade and maintain the drainage and irrigation systems, so essential to the agricultural sector.

Our farmers are encouraged to grow more food, not only because they eke out a livelihood from tilling the soil, but also because governmental policies and government's facilitating role make commercial farming conducive.

Hence, they can rely on government aiding them in acquiring lands for this purpose, as well as guidance in moving into new forms of diversification.

With government leading the way and farmers taking advantage of prevailing opportunities to expand and diversify, Guyana is predictably set on a course of sustainable socioeconomic growth through sustainable, diversified agriculture.