U.S. experts advise on Guyana beef challenges
Guyana Chronicle
January 21, 2007

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GUYANA’S effort to export beef depends on the government and the private sector playing critical roles in ensuring safety and quality, U.S. specialist Dr. John E. Rushing has said.

At a Georgetown meeting Wednesday to discuss the challenges for Guyana’s meat and dairy products, he said government’s role includes setting and enforcing a set of rules for the safety and wholesomeness of the product and that for meat exports these rules cover the issues pertaining to the construction, maintenance and operation of abattoirs.

Rushing, Professor/Food Science Extension Leader (Dairy Products and Food Technology), Department of Food Science at the North Carolina State University, noted also that the government needed to work with the industry to adopt standards that harmonise with those of trading partners; provide a regulatory structure to produce acceptable levels of health protection; and provide oversight to ensure food safety in the importing countries.

A press release said, at the meeting, he addressed cattle farmers from Regions Five and Six, agricultural research scientists, agricultural professionals, staff of the Ministry of Agriculture, the National Dairy Development Programme, the National Agricultural Research Institute and the University of Guyana, the U.S. Embassy staff, students of agriculture, members of the Guyana-Mississippi Chapter of Partners of the Americas and members of the general public.

The meeting was sponsored by the U.S. Embassy, Georgetown in collaboration with the Partners of the Americas – Worldwide Farmer to Farmer Programme.

Along with Rushing, the seminar was conducted by a team of three other volunteer specialists from the U.S. -- Dr. Geoffrey A. Benson, Associate Professor and Extension Economist, Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, North Carolina State University; Dr. Steven P. Washburn, Professor and Extension Specialist, Department of Animal Science, North Carolina State University; Dr. Francis X. Higdon, Senior Lecturer in Community Economic Development, Department of Agricultural Economics and Rural Sociology, Pennsylvania State University.

The private sector’s roles, according to Rushing, include adherence to the rules (to be monitored by public agencies, the construction and sanitation of facilities, training and supervision of personnel; maintenance of records and consistently complying with the specifications and expectations of the buyers.

The press release said the team observed that Guyana’s cattle industry is complex with farmers having cattle for wealth, for beef income and/or for milk income. They pointed out also that there were several crossbred animals and various land tenure arrangements inclusive of landless cattle owners, cattle farmers who operated on leased land (either individually or communally) and cattle farmers who had transported or freehold land.

Further, they pointed out that there were variations in the type, location, and productivity of land on which cattle were raised and that many cattle owners had other farm and non-farm enterprises. They noted that fewer farmers raised cows only for milk.

Benson, the agricultural economist and team leader, pointed out that the team was emphasising beef for export and that while there were perceived to be some export opportunities, “the customer is always right.” As a result exporters would need to ensure that beef products were competitive in quality, price and service.

The release said he stressed that everyone in the supply chain from pasture to plate (such as the meat importer, shipper, exporter, abattoir owner, cattle farmer) had to make an acceptable profit.

On the issue of improving production and quality of cattle for potential export, Washburn pointed out through a practical illustration of different animals in a slide show that beef from a 3-year-old bull was very much different from beef from a 12-year old cull cow. It was going to be different in tenderness, flavour and in the dressing percentage.

Washburn informed the audience that the quality of a beef animal depended on at least four factors: age, breed, health and the quality and quantity of pastures and supplements.

To achieve successful beef production, Washburn indicated that farm improvements (including water control, fencing, pastures, and handling facilities) were required. He said too there should be records to know how one’s animals were performing (e.g. per cent calf crop/year, calf losses/year, age to reach target live and carcass weight) and records to know if the cattle enterprise was profitable.

With respect to dairy industry, the release said Washburn commented that while there were some successes in the adoption of practices such as Artificial Insemination and pasture management, efforts to promote a sustainable commercial dairy processing and marketing model have been unsatisfactory.

Concerns included an inconsistent supply, low quality of milk and insufficient scale of facilities and market. He noted that there was an active traditional dairy industry.

Higdon addressed the issue of cattle and their relationship with the local and national community and cautioned that as Guyana sought to develop its cattle industry, policy makers and all stakeholders needed to: work within local cultures; be cautious of issues related to the environment and quality of life; build community leadership; enable Guyanese entrepreneurs at home and abroad; and build public trust and private initiative.

Benson, in his closing remarks, observed that all the pieces had to fit together for the effort to be successful.

Funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the Partners of the Americas – Farmer to Farmer Programme has been providing technical assistance to the Ministry of Agriculture, the New Guyana Marketing Corporation, the National Agricultural Research Institute, the National Dairy Development Project as well as to other private sector and public sector agencies involved in the agricultural industry.

The Partners of the Americas – Farmer to Farmer Program seeks to improve economic opportunities in rural areas of Latin America and the Caribbean by increasing food production and distribution, promoting better farm and marketing operations and conserving natural resources.

The Farmer to Farmer Programme brings together agricultural professionals and practitioners from the U.S. and the Caribbean.

Volunteers from the U.S. work with farmers and agribusiness owners in Guyana, Haiti and Jamaica to identify local needs and design projects for them.