Minister of Agriculture Dr Leslie Ramsammy has said that reducing the importation of milk and dairy products are the priority goals for local dairy producers even as he outlined plans for improving the breed of cows and starting dairy plants countrywide.
He was speaking at a consultation on dairy development held at the Guyana Livestock Development Authority (GLDA) last week.
Ramsammy said the local industry will aim to reduce the importation of milk by 25% and the importation of dairy products by 10% by 2020, according to a report from the Government Information Agency (GINA). “Those are ambitious goals, but also reachable goals,” the minister asserted at the meeting which comprised dairy farmers from across the regions, GLDA officials and various interests groups and companies.
The meeting touched on bettering dairy development through improved genetics to increase milk yields; education for dairy producers; the pricing of milk; addressing of collection and distribution systems; the regulation of milk and dairy products; the ownership of plants either by co-ops or stakeholders; marketing strategy; investors, both local and otherwise and feed for cows.
Agriculture remains vital to the nation’s economy, contributing about 10% of the GDP. However, Guyana’s import bill for milk in 2013 was US$25M and for milk products, more than US$35M. The minister “deplored the fact that finding this sum was going towards supporting the industries in other countries” though he acknowledged that this could not be changed overnight. He pointed out however that Guyana’s products must be able to compete “across the board” and expects that there should be some progress in this area within six years.
Recalling the failed dairy initiatives in the late 70s and early 80s at Liliendaal and Versailles, the minister said adjusting and upgrading plans used then could take the process through the chain to produce fresh, pasteurised milk and milk products. “Guyana’s focus at this time is meeting our local demands,” he said, adding that if this is done, the CARICOM demands could also be met. “I believe together we can do this.”
The GLDA is also working on improving the breed of cows, artificial insemination, and embryo transfer. “We are pursuing livestock development in Guyana from a perspective of a value change, from beginning to end, so there are markets etc…” To this end, government is in talks with stakeholders to invest in a dairy plant, for which “we are willing to provide all the technical support and facilities, and we are willing to participate in public/private partnership.”
Government is collaborating with the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), the Canadian Government, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) to provide the technical support needed for the commercial production of milk and dairy products. Critical pieces of legislation to support a formal dairy industry such as the Food Safety Bill and the Animal Welfare Bill are also in the pipelines. The first reading of the Food Safety Bill is set for tomorrow and it is expected to be passed soon after.
In addition, the minister anticipates the operationalising of a small dairy plant in Region Six. The private initiative, by Freddy’s Supermarket, has already announced the procurement of equipment for a dairy plant to meet the supermarket’s needs with 1000 litres of pasteurised milk per day. In addition, the administration is in talks with a group of investors about setting up a plant in Region Five.
Ramsammy noted that Sterling Products has been working with farmers on the Essequibo Islands and on the West Demerara and he hoped that a meeting with additional investors would result in a plan to build the industry. He said that visits to developing countries have shown that their models had adopted the co-op methods in running dairy plants. Regional meetings to address the same issue and feedback would be provided through a quarterly newsletter on Dairy Development in Guyana which would contain information provided by the GLDA. “I do believe that farmers in Guyana should have a say in establishing these plants, and to have a say in honing them,” the minister said. Meanwhile, CEO of the GLDA Dr Dindyal Permaul said the agency intends to communicate with producers to ensure that the industry takes off.
During the interactive session, it was agreed that finding pasture lands for dairy cows still needed to be addressed. The minister observed that this had been an ongoing issue over the years and a decision would have to be taken about whether collective pasture for cooperatives would be provided. He noted that because vast plots of land would be required, it would be collective pastures owned by co-ops.
Ramsammy also acknowledged that a number of problems have emerged with co-ops over time. “I am trying my best, we are developing some land for that purpose and I hope that people will cooperate with us so we could have that,” he said. The matter of stray catchers picking up animals, that is cows roaming in developed communities, is also to be addressed.