Two years after a “model” farm promoted as one that private sector investors could buy into was launched, it has been reverted to the National Agricultural Research Institute (NARI).
In October 2008, Neal and Massy’s (NM) Geddes Grant division in partnership with NARI launched the farm at Mon Repos, East Coast Demerara and with it serving as a “hub”, the eventual participation of other private sector investors in the project was envisaged. “It is the Neal and Massy Group’s contribution towards the government’s Grow More campaign and also in developing farmers to grow more.
So the farm is meant to be a demonstration plot, at the end of the day we will have this farm, which other farmers can come and look at”, Seu Sarran Prasad, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Geddes Grant had said in an interview with Stabroek News last year.
It was in November 2008 that NM and the Agriculture Ministry held a commemoration ceremony for a modern demonstration farm and training facility at Mon Repos. It was reported at the time that NM donated $13 million to the project, which was expected to be fully completed within five years. However, at the end of two years, it has now been handed back to NARI. Stabroek News was unable to get a comment from Prasad as to the reasons why and through his secretary, he would only say that to get an update on the farm, NARI would have to be contacted since the farm was handed back to them.
In his interview last year, Prasad had said that the overall objectives were to make the 10-acre farm viable so that at the end of the day, it must provide a positive cash return and also to select crops that either have the potential to be sold on the export market or can be substituted for imports.
He had explained that farmers are already providing an adequate supply of vegetables such as bora and boulanger, and the company would not want to venture into these crops but crops such as turmeric, which is used in the curry powder manufacturing process here and a lot of which is imported.
At the time, he had noted that the company was still in the process of selecting crops, which could best fulfill these requirements but was looking particularly at certain varieties of hot pepper and ginger.
In July last year, Chairman of the Agriculture sub-committee of the Private Sector Commission (PSC) Beni Sankar had told the Stabroek Business that a business plan for the creation of a major multi-stakeholder private sector investment in the country’s agricultural sector could be completed within a short time and critical decisions with regard to moving ahead with the investment were to have been made in a month’s time.
He had said that this would revolve around an envisaged joint venture partnership between NM and around twenty private sector companies including some major players in the business community. Nothing has been heard about this project since.
Prasad had said that the possibilities were great from an economic standpoint, and the farm can be a model for (cultivation) on an expanded basis, it could be the incubation for an enlarged concept to take place. He had noted that if it is enlarged, it becomes more viable.
There is a role for the private sector to play, he had emphasized. He had said that after the crops to be cultivated were identified and are viable, the “desirable next step” would have been the commercialization of the farm. This, the CEO had explained, would have entailed expanding the acreage under cultivation and would have involved taking up 30 to 40 acres of land to bring the total area under cultivation to about 50 acres.
He had said that the company welcomed the initiative by the PSC and wanted private sector companies to join with NM in the initiative as the venture needed wider private sector participation.
Prasad had posited that the farm could be the “hub” around which expanded development could take place. He had disclosed that the PSC had indicated an interest in having its membership contribute resources towards expanding the model concept into a farm noting that once this happened, the economic viability would be enhanced.
Prasad had said that at the end of the day, the farm would revert to the government so that they could engage in the kind of activities on a national level that would benefit other farmers but later noted that once there is commercial production, it would be managed by the company.