A US$6.8 million Rural Enterprise and Agricultural Development (READ) Project, touted as one which will strengthen food security and develop the agriculture sector, was officially launched yesterday at the National Agricultural Research Unit (NARI) Mon Repos, East Coast Demerara.

The main objective of the project is to improve the living conditions of poor rural households, especially small-scale producers and vulnerable groups, increasing their human, social, and financial assets, Minister of Agriculture, Robert Persaud said in his feature address.

According to a copy of his speech, Persaud said that with rising food prices here to stay, at least for the medium term, Guyana and the region have recognised the need to ensure that they are not only food secure but are food sovereign, by increasing local food production rather than relying on food imports.

He said there are a number of initiatives in operation being led by Guyana, to increase agricultural production in the Caribbean with the principal regional programme being the Jagdeo Initiative, named after President Bharat Jagdeo, who is Caricom’s Lead Head of Government with responsibility for agriculture.

The minister said the READ project, which is co-funded by the International Fund for Agricultural Development is one initiative by the international community in supporting ongoing work by the Guyana Government to ensure that rural residents, particularly farmers, are given the necessary impetus to aid in the eradication of poverty.

While noting that the project seeks to increase the development of sustainable livelihoods and more importantly reduce the country’s food import bill, Persaud pointed out that Guyana is the only country in the Caribbean that is a net exporter of food and can claim to be food secure. He said the country’s focus on food security and developing the agriculture sector had been greatly strengthened by the recent signing of two new agriculture projects inclusive of READ.

He pointed out that government recently secured a US$20.9 million loan from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) to implement an Agricultural Export Diversification Programme (ADP) which will focus on increasing agricultural exports by developing sub-sectors with the most potential; namely fruits and vegetables, beef and aquaculture and which will support the READ project; while there is the IDB US$20.5 million Agricultural Sector Support Services Programme (ASSP) that will be providing critical support to the sector.

Persaud also asserted that apart from those projects, his ministry, through its various agencies has ongoing programmes to foster increased food production in Guyana through the provision of appropriate technology (both for production and value addition) and services to the farming community.

Persaud added that an efficient drainage and irrigation (D&I) system is key to supporting agricultural production and food security in Guyana and significant sums are being spent on improving the D&I services nationally to create the necessary environment for sustaining productive activities. However, with the advent of climate change, efforts to provide an efficient D&I system is being further challenged, he said.

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