What is the status of the Jagdeo Initiative on Agriculture?

Dear Editor,

In your Thursday, September 22 news article, ‘President lays out four security challenges for world at UN,‘ the four challenges were listed as food security, energy security, resource security and climate security. My first question is: Who will take him seriously when he, as a head of state or government, failed on all four fronts in Guyana? Starting with food security, back in July 2002, President Jagdeo, who has lead responsibility for agriculture within Caricom, proposed what would become known as the Jagdeo Agriculture Initiative (JAI). This initiative was validated or endorsed in July 2004 by regional governments as a stratagy aimed at removing the constrictions on the development of agriculture in the Caribbean. It was supposed to build upon past regional efforts to develop a common agricultural policy, and it identified ten significant  constraints faced by the sector. Two years later, in July 2006, the Caricom Secretariat put out a statement under the caption, ‘Jagdeo initiative will ensure a sustainable regional agriculture sector,‘ adding that the policies and programmes for the agriculture sector in Caricom, as set out in the Jagdeo Initiative will ensure that the region’s agriculture sector is given priority in order for it to become sustainable. Here’s my question: We are in 2011, so what is the status of the JAI? On January 12, this year, Caricom News Network put out an item, ‘Jagdeo chides Caricom for not implementing agriculture initiative.‘ I am not going to repeat everything that he was quoted as saying, suffice to say that even if the regional agriculture vision was blurred before going bust, what sort of comprehensive agriculture programme has the Jagdeo regime implemented in Guyana, beyond the routine agriculture agenda, that is not only helping satisfy the needs of Guyanese and the wider Caribbean, but serving as a beacon of inspiration to regional governments?

I have said more than once that given agriculture remains Guyana’s primary source for economic revitalization I was deeply disappointed after Dr Cheddi Jagan returned to power in 1992, that his party did not present a major agriculture blueprint to help revitalize the Guyana economy. He even died without leaving one behind, making it one of two major failures of his leadership, the other being the lack of a respectable leadership succession plan. I have no qualms about having a regional agriculture plan, but what is wrong with Guyana having a comprehensive agriculture plan that features more than one massive food processing plant in agriculture-based communities? Do we have any idea at this time when food prices are going up and up that we could have been well on our way as the actual breadbasket of the region?

I recall before leaving Guyana in 1988 I was assigned as a GBC reporter to cover the turning of the sod in Region Two by the Hoyte administration and Banks DIH officials for that company to launch a massive diversification programme in the agriculture sector. It was truly a magnificent idea given what Banks DIH was already known for, and while I don’t know what has since happened to that plan, it was the type of private sector initiative I would have liked to see any government create the environment conducive for takeoff. Government can get involved in this type of venture, but it doesn’t have to be the only initiator or investor. In fact, I did suggest several times that Guyana needs a sort of agriculture stock market, in which government and private companies can collaborate to invite Guyanese – at home and abroad – to buy either government-backed agriculture bonds or just plain shares in major agriculture ventures. Can anyone envisage Banks DIH selling shares for its agriculture venture? Given that company’s success story, this would be worth any prudent risk. Then multiply this scenario and we’re talking glory story. We have endless arable land waiting for the right visionary leader in government to constructively exploit.

Unfortunately, the Jagdeo administration’s main interest in land seems to be talking about agriculture while either playing politics with the sale of state lands to Guyanese (who will struggle to get loans to build houses on the plots), or selling prime pieces of real estate to friends and associates to build houses and businesses. If anyone believes that Guyana has been a huge success story in the agriculture sector under this President, he or she must be easily impressed with mediocrity, because Guyana has the capacity to do exponentially bigger and better than what we are seeing.

President Jagdeo complained in January this year, that while other countries in the region seemed “reluctant” to implement his initiative, Guyana will continue to experience major growth in all the sub-sectors of agriculture, despite a few setbacks with sugar production. Editor, if he can’t get sugar right, and sugar is the biggest agriculture draw in Guyana, who will follow his lead? Is he also aware GuySuCo continues to haemorrhage sugar workers? Caribbean leaders are watching him, not just listening to him.

Before his January tirade, Agriculture Minister Robert Persaud also complained about the slow pace of Caricom member states in moving to revive the agriculture sector. “Last year the region imported more than US$4 billion in food which I think is an alarming figure, but at the same time countries such as Guyana has tremendous difficulties of even exporting food within Caricom, and we have to cross so many hurdles,” Mr Persaud was reported to have protested.

These complaining officials who want to warn and advise the world about the challenge of food security and what needs to be done need to know they missed a golden opportunity in the last nineteen years to make Guyana the breadbasket of the Caribbean; because of the US$4B in food the region imported, a good portion of that food also ended up in Guyana.

The President and his agriculture minister need to know that Caricom leaders picked the Guyana President to play the lead role on agriculture in the region because they believe Guyana has the capacity to play the lead role here.

What Guyana is doing right now is not even good enough for Guyana, let alone the Caribbean, and that’s why we need a visionary government.

Yours faithfully,
Emile Mervin

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