The Ministry of Agriculture is expanding its Grow More Food campaign following what it said was the successful implementation of the first phase.
“The campaign will now be intensified to cater for greater challenges and support not only for small farmers, but expanding medium and large scale agro investments to benefit from opportunities resulting from the Global Food Crisis,” a statement from the ministry said. It did not identify what new measures will be taken but said that the government will be distributing fertilizers, seeds, planting materials and livestock to farmers and farmers’ groups across the country –activities undertaken in the past.
The ministry noted that global food prices have been rising since last year and for those countries that specialise in the export of raw materials, the increase in agricultural prices affords them a unique opportunity to improve their terms of trade. “However, it may also be very costly for them in terms of decreased food security, increased malnutrition and possible social unrest, especially in net food importing countries. The persistence of volatility, which is the result of constant variations in price, will continue to create great uncertainty for farmers, added to the great risks already posed by climate change and recurrent pests and diseases,” the statement said.
The ministry said, therefore, agriculture in Guyana must undergo a significant transformation in order to meet the related challenges of achieving food security and responding to climate change.
It noted that projections based on population growth and food consumption patterns indicate that agricultural production will need to increase by at least 70% to meet demands by 2050. Most estimates also indicate that climate change is likely to reduce agricultural productivity, production stability and incomes in some areas that already have high levels of food insecurity, it noted. Developing climate-smart agriculture is thus crucial to achieving future food security and climate change goals, the Ministry said.
The statement recalled that the Grow More Food Campaign was launched on March 20, 2008 by Agriculture Minister Robert Persaud, in an effort to increase food production in Guyana by adopting a market led approach.
It noted that this involved a five-step plan which included the implementation of a US$21.9 M Agricultural Export Diversification Programme; implementation of a US$6M Rural Enterprise and Agricultural Development Programme; Increased investment in drainage and irrigation by restoring drainage to areas abandoned by farmers and training farmers to manage the maintenance of rehabilitated structures at a cost of G$12B since 2008; Enhanced Extension Services through the creation of the Guyana Livestock Development Authority and the revised National Agricultural Research and Extension Institute; and increased availability of agricultural inputs such as seeds, planting materials and improved breeds for all categories of livestock, which includes cattle, small ruminants and poultry.
“Rural farmers, agro investors, processors, exporters and all those involved in the value chain have benefitted from the investments made by the government over the past five years to boost food production and attaining a lucrative means of earning a livelihood. Consequently, these results emanated from the investments made in the non-traditional agriculture sector which allowed exports to increase by 115% in 2010 when compared to 2005,” the statement said.
Many farmers from across the country had told Stabroek News in a series on the Grow More Food campaign that they had experienced little benefit from the programme, with many of the same problems experienced in the past continuing to plague them. These include low prices and no markets, pests and diseases, floods, and poor roads, among others. And while the Ministry has said that exports have risen, only few farmers benefit from this, with new pack-houses constructed being underutilised in many instances. Farmers had called for an agro-processing sector to be developed but officials have said that power is a major constraint to sustaining the facilities for such a venture.
The ministry, in the statement, said that Guyana is the only country in the southern hemisphere that is a net exporter of food and has achieved the United Nations first Millennium Development Goal of eradicating hunger.
The ministry will continue to place prominence on food security and climate change by transforming agriculture and adopting practices that are “climate-smart,” it said. “Towards this end, a number of production systems are already being used by farmers and food producers to adapt to climate change, and reduce vulnerability,” the Ministry added.