18 Aug Guyana boosts regional food and nutrition security with pioneering strategies
An innovative approach to agricultural means Guyana is playing a pivotal role in achieving CARICOM’s goal of reducing regional food import bills by 25% by 2025
Experienced international observers have frequently praised Guyana for its continued progress toward eliminating hunger and malnutrition through better food security and greater and more efficient agricultural systems as the country seeks to regain its coveted title of the “Breadbasket of the Caribbean”.
The government has made substantial investments in agriculture and infrastructure, such as improving irrigation systems, building more dams and reservoirs, and developing new technology to increase agriculture productivity. The country has also witnessed the implementation of policies to promote sustainable farming practices and reduce food waste.
Guyana currently holds the portfolio for responsibility for Agriculture, Agricultural Diversification and Food Security in CARICOM and is spearheading the widespread regional efforts of reducing its food import bill. The strategy outlines specific actions that are required by each state in achieving the 25 by 2025 goal of reducing CARICOM’s food import bill by 25% by 2025.
“We want to become a major hub in terms of food security,” says President Ali. “We started two years ago from zero production of corn and soy as input for feed production. Because of our Vision 2030, by 2025 we will be self-sufficient in corn and soy for all our people, and we will be able to export. We are doing the same thing for agro processing and want to do the same for the dairy industry; where there are tens of millions of US dollars being invested by private sector. This is our focus. The next seven years are dedicated to building an economy and a country that will be able to efficiently and competitively survive in a global system that will be very, very different from what we see today.”
Among the Caribbean and Latin American countries that managed to reduce the prevalence of stunting between 2012 and 2020, Guyana did the best at 30%. Such success has not gone unnoticed in international circles. According officials from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the country has “significantly advanced its food security and nutrition agenda by achieving the World Food Summit (1996) and Millennium Development Goals (2015) hunger targets. Further, the country continues to improve its standing through advocacy and implementation of CARICOM’s Regional Food and Nutrition Security Action Plan and Twenty-five by 2025 Strategy — Reducing CARICOM’s Agri-food Imports. While Guyana is self-sufficient in food, fish and meat, and food energy supply to meet the population’s recommended food energy requirements, access to nutritious food impedes the goal of adequate food security. The implementation of the Food Insecurity Experience Scale (FIES) is a pathway that places the country a step closer to realizing food systems transformation and the right to adequate food for its people.”
Productivity gains boost living standards
Such a strong flow of international plaudits is music to the ears of Minister of Agriculture, Zulfikar Mustapha, who is keen to underline significant improvements in rice production and goods like sugar, livestock and fisheries, as well as a sharp focus on sustainability.
The government wants to expand the agriculture sector further, particularly in non-traditional areas like fruits and vegetables, which could help to diversify the country’s exports and further increase food security, he says.
“We’ve seen massive transformation in the agriculture sector over the last two-and-a-half years,” he continues. “The leadership in this sector has been tremendous after the president’s commitment to push agriculture and make Guyana a food producer rather than a food importer. We also strive to help our Caribbean brothers and sisters have food security. The Ministry of Agriculture is focused on producing food in all sectors, not only in crops, but in livestock and new crops going into diversification in the agriculture sector. We’re now consolidating and expanding on the traditional crops that we’ve been growing over the decades, so we can ramp up production and develop new ones. Our goal is to encourage more youth and women in agriculture because, traditionally, it’s been middle-aged men and more mature, older people who are involved. We want to change that perspective and lead by example. We discovered that many young people’s perception of agriculture is that it’s a menial and labor intensive job. We want to make agriculture more attractive, so they could use their skills learned in tertiary institutions to improve agriculture.”
To hit this challenging goal of changing people’s mindsets, in early 2022 President Ali launched a groundbreaking industry initiative that aims to bolster the agriculture sector, empower youths and create jobs.
Called the Agriculture and Innovation Entrepreneurship Program, the first phase kicked off with the government providing all the resources and materials to develop 25 shade houses that will be used to house thousands of high-value crops like broccoli and cauliflower. Indeed, many of the hotels in Georgetown now receive fresh produce under the innovative and popular program.
Each young person becomes a shareholder in a company and receives a salary, meaning they are incentivized to persevere in a sector that is often perceived as unattractive. In addition, an advisory committee assists them in setting up and coordinating their operations.
“What will take Guyana forward is what we are doing here; building responsible leadership and having young people lead in that responsible leadership because they are the ones who will inherit this Guyana that we want to build, and they have to be a key part of building that responsible leadership,” President Ali said at the program’s high-profile launch.
The head of state noted that the overarching goal is to link the country’s food security strategy to the regional food security system as Guyana continues to develop its agricultural potential. “While we’re working on one hand to expand local production for the local market, we are already eliminating the barriers to the regional markets, so that we are going to expand this progressively until we are able to reach into the regional market as well. They have to see themselves as part of a regional system and part of the local system.”
Adding value at farm gate key to success
The agriculture sector has experienced rapid transformations in recent years as through the expansion, diversification and modernization to improve its resilience and competitiveness to ensure it can compete with other industries.
These developments are being supported by another core factor: added value. The government is pushing farmers, individuals and companies in the crop, livestock, dairy and fisheries sectors to add extra value themselves and boost their own profit margins, rather than rely on third parties elsewhere in the region.
“We want to be an exporter of not only primary produce, but an exporter of added value goods,” Minister Mustapha adds. “In the last few years, we’ve built a dozen agricultural processing facilities across the country and are now in the process of commissioning them. We’re building these facilities in not just the urban areas, but in rural areas because that’s where most of the agricultural activities occur.
“For we have women now producing peanut butter from peanuts and a number of other products like fruit juices. We’re looking at exporting the juice instead of exporting the fruits and the same for peanut butter. Those are the value-added aspects. We’re looking to export many other products. The agri-processing is another aspect of the agriculture sector. That’s another big investment for us in Guyana. We have many opportunities in that area, and many farmers are moving into agri-processing. A farmer who used to farm all their life can now farm, produce and have a processing facility in their community where they can process their farm’s output. We’re also seeing more budgetary allocation being made to the agriculture sector and the entire Caribbean is looking to Guyana for that leadership.
It’s not just on dry land where Guyana is reinforcing its positive reputation, with aquaculture sites starting to flourish. “Brackish water shrimp is a black shrimp and we’ve increased that production from 10,000 kilograms per month to around 90,000 kilograms per month over the past year,” Minister Mustapha reveals.
“We’re also looking to develop other species of fish. For example, we’re working in interior locations to make residents sufficient in cage culture. We’ve already started the capital works for vannamei prawns production, in which young people and women are involved. It’s a very lucrative project and we’re ramping it up. We’re supplementing the fishing sector with aquaculture because of climate change. We move the agriculture sector to have food security, so when one area isn’t so productive, we go to another. That’s why we’ve been successful as a government over the years.”