Agriculture Minister Dr. Leslie Ramsammy on Tuesday witnessed the harvesting of the first batch of English potatoes from the National Agricultural Research and Extension Institute (NAREI’s) nursery demonstration plot, Mon Repos.
A release from the Agriculture Ministry said that NAREI embarked on the planting of a number of non-traditional produce and demonstration plots were commenced by researchers from the Institute.
Among the non-traditional crops being grown are garlic, carrot, turmeric, ginger, chick peas and English potatoes.
“This is a good day for us in agriculture. Gone are the days when we import such produce when in fact we have enough land space, experienced and qualified persons and the will-power to ensure that such things become a reality”, Ramsammy said.
The demonstration plots of potatoes were harvested at 42 days by Ramsammy and one of the lead researchers at the institute David Fredricks.
The Ministry of Agriculture has come under pressure over the country’s large food import bill and why it has been unable to push cultivation of some of the items here. Several years ago, the government embarked on a costly Grow More Food campaign which critics say failed to address the need to grow big import items like potatoes and onions. The reaping of the potatoes crop will be seen as a tiny step in the transformation needed in the sector.
Other parts of the Caribbean have taken steps to grow more onions, potatoes and carrots to slash the food import bill. Guyana has grown English potatoes in the past in the interior highlands but high transport costs have been cited as a major problem. Growing the crop on the coast would be more cost effective and the observers say that the ministry will now have to try to work with coastal farmers on the technique and methods.
Ramsammy in the press release said that the Ministry through NAREI will continue to work on such projects.
“Such interventions by Government is to ensure that we not only reduce our import bill but also increase our export Bill…I am proud of my dedicated staff at NAREI and encourage them to continue the good work the institute has already commenced and this will go a far way”, Ramsammy said.
Chief Executive Officer, NAREI, Dr. Oudho Homenauth stressed his agency’s commitment to ensuring that non-traditional varieties of crops which are adaptable to conditions on the coast are introduced.
Such initiatives were started by farmers in Regions Seven and Eight; however a number of factors including the high cost to transport the commodities brought an end to the venture, the release said.
According to Dr. Homenauth, researchers encountered a number of difficulties in the initial phase such as soil type, and pest attack before reaching this stage.
“During extensive research we found that growing the potatoes under shaded cultivation instead of in the open has also helped in this regard…to date, we have mastered our soil type and managed pest attack to a significant level” the CEO said.
While NAREI has been progressing on the research, Dr. Homenauth noted that the challenge presently remains access to state-of-art planting materials which will be more feasible. This is being procured through assistance from the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), the release said.
The research aspect of the agency is being manned by 23 researchers. The objective of NAREI is to reduce imports by 50 percent within the next year, the release said. As such, the Agency said it is open to working with farmers countrywide and to lend assistance through expertise sharing where necessary.