Having expanded rice and sugar production, Guyana aims to diversify further, says Minister of Agriculture, Zulfikar Mustapha, in a Brazilian TV interview

Brasilia, 14 April 2021 (IICA). Guyana is seeking to boost agricultural production to strengthen food security, improve the profitability of small farmers and open up new export markets to earn foreign exchange.

The South American country is expecting to reap the largest rice harvest in its history and to expand sugar production, even as it works to develop non-traditional production of crops such as soybean and corn, allowing it to be self-sufficient in protein production as well as in the production of feed for the poultry industry.

Speaking from Georgetown, Guyana’s Minister of Agriculture, Zulfikar Mustapha, spoke about the outlook for the agriculture sector in his country, during an interview with the Agro América program, which airs on the Brazilian TV station, Agro Mais.

“Our main crops are rice and sugar, which we export on a large-scale to Europe, North America, Central America and the Caribbean. Last year we saw a revaluing and recapitalization of sugar production and we are close to reopening four sugar establishments that had been closed, thus providing employment and increasing production. Our aim is to surpass the 88,000 tons produced in 2020 to achieve 100,000 tons this year”, said Mustapha.

“We have managed to increase rice production and foresee that it has great potential for this year. We are expecting to reap the largest harvest in our history and are seeking out new markets globally. We have two new buyers—Hungary and Latvia—and are negotiating with Brazil to increase our offer this year, from 10,000 to 34,000 tons”, he added.

The Minister revealed the plan to build a deep-water port and to develop a railway connection to Brazil to improve trade conditions. “The benefits will be enormous for both countries”, he said, “especially for us”. We want our products to be transported via a railway route, starting in the Brazilian state of Roraima, rather than through the Pacific Ocean route.

Mustapha also indicated that Guyana is striving to develop livestock, which it feels is key to food security and foreign exchange earnings and explained that, “We are building modern abattoirs throughout the country, to develop our beef and pork industry. Our aim is to process pork locally, rather than importing it. Brazil exports meat to the Middle East and we also want to enter those markets. We are already self-sufficient in poultry production, but we want to export. We are investing a great deal, researching and building laboratories. We have pastures, abundant land and we can confirm that the livestock industry in Guyana is taking off. In a few years, we will be a powerhouse in this part of the world”, he predicted.

During the interview, the Guyanese minister assessed the role of international cooperation and emphasized the importance of the work of the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), stating that, “In our view, it plays a very important role and we are convinced that we can benefit much more thanks to its assistance, not only Guyana, but the entire Caribbean. Guyana is an agricultural leader in the region. We have been called the food basket of the Caribbean, given our vast land area and agricultural potential”.

The impact of the pandemic and the pressure it has put on the agriculture sector was also addressed during the interview. Around the world, Covid-19 has brought to the fore the importance of family farmers in guaranteeing food security and nutritional quality. In that regard, Mustapha stated that the Guyanese government has made it a priority to protect and support small-scale producers. “Many persons depend on agriculture for their livelihood. We are working to improve market access for small-scale farmers. There is a large company in Guyana that produces juice, and we are assisting family farmers so that they can sell their products to the company at preferential prices. The private sector is working with us to support producers and cooperatives in our country”, he remarked.

The minister also referred to the importance of digital inclusion and the incorporation of technology, noting that his ministry would be purchasing electronic equipment for small-scale producers. “Farmers in remote areas will be able to send information to the city, so that we can help them through extension services from Georgetown. We will need to equip and train farmers in order to witness a technological revolution in agriculture. We will help farmers acquire drones so that they can monitor their plantations and apply plant protection products”, he explained.

Guyana is a very proactive country in terms of climate change mitigation and adaptation policies.

Mustapha stated that the country had developed a low-carbon development strategy under which it sells oxygen from its forests to different parts of the world. However, the minister acknowledged that the country is also very vulnerable to the impact of climate change.

“Guyana is below sea level and faces high-intensity rainfall, which makes the country prone to flooding. We are implementing mechanisms to alleviate these problems. This is a very serious issue”, he stressed.

Lastly, the minister highlighted the number of rivers in Guyana, noting that the country’s name is an indigenous word that means “land of many waters”.

“We have an abundance of fresh water. Water is not scarce anywhere in our country. Per capita, when you consider our surface area, we have the greatest amount of fresh water in the entire world. However, we have been looking at various parts of the country to ensure that people have access to sufficient water for consumption and irrigation. Water is available, but we must implement the necessary mechanisms to ensure that it reaches communities, and that is exactly what we are doing”, he concluded.

Agro América is a program broadcast by Brazilian TV channel Agro Mais of Grupo Bandeirantes de Comunicación. It is produced in partnership with IICA.

The program presents the current situation of the agriculture and rural sector in IICA member countries, with the aim of fostering the sharing of experiences and a discussion of the challenges and opportunities facing Latin America and the Caribbean in the field of agricultural and rural development.

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