In the backdrop of a marginal expansion in sectors such as agriculture and fishing, Guyana’s economy grew by 2.2 percent in the first half of 2017, compared to the 2.0 percent growth recorded in the first half of 2016.
However, the Ministry of Finance said in its Mid-Year Report, laid in the National Assembly yesterday by Finance Minister Winston Jordan, that due largely to the projected under-performance of sugar, the projected growth rate for the year has been reduced to 3.1 percent, from the 3.8 percent projected at the time of the budget.
Rice production in the first half of 2017 totalled 349,867 tonnes, a 31.6 percent increase over production in the first half of 2016.
“This noteworthy performance was attributed to a rise in acreage sown in all regions, especially in Region 5 where acreage sown rose by 30 percent to 42,595. In addition to Government, farmers as well as millers have also been actively engaged in seeking new markets,” it said.
It is further explained that pursuit of new markets has resulted in exports to Mexico of potentially over $1 billion, while exports to Cuba of 15,000 tonnes, the first such shipment in over 40 years, during the second half, are expected to contribute to the expansion of the industry.
Rice production for 2017 is forecast to reach 590,000 tonnes, representing a growth of 10.4 percent over the production in 2016. The production is expected to fill not just the new markets but also facilitate the production of several value-added products being promoted by the Guyana Rice Development Board (GRDB).
One such product involves the Burma Rice Research Station, which has started research on a wheat-rice blend of flour. Major risks to the second crop, such as persistent untimely rainfall which so far has damaged approximately 339.2 hectares, have, however been noted.
In sharp contrast to the positive record of the rice industry, government has reported that production of sugar was recorded at 49,606 tonnes at the half year, compared to 56,645 tonnes during the first half of 2016, a decline of 12.4 percent. The half-year figure is disastrous, considering historic trends for the first crop.
The mid-year report notes that this shortfall was mainly due to no production at the Skeldon estate because the boilers were unsafe and required significant repairs.
Further, cane yields were 50.2 tonnes per acre in the first half of 2017, up from the 45.2 tonnes achieved in the first half of 2016, but below the targeted 54.3 tonnes for this year.
Other factors that affected sugar production were the late supply of critical operating materials, such as fertiliser; pest damage, particularly at the Blairmont and Uitvlugt estates; unfavourable weather; and strikes and absenteeism. “As a consequence, the industry was unable to reap its entire first crop, with approximately 150,000 tonnes of cane being carried over to the second crop of 2017,” the report states.
Despite this weak performance, production in the second half is expected to be on target as the sugar industry continues to take measures to address its unsustainable cost structure including the rationalisation of existing estates.
Government has stressed in the report that during this rationalisation process the retention of workers will be paramount, with some lands being leased to workers in order to facilitate their engagement in other agricultural pursuits.
The second half of 2017 will see preparations for the divestment of the Skeldon estate; Wales and Uitvlugt estates will be amalgamated and farmers reassigned to the Uitvlugt factory; and Albion and Rose Hall estates will also be amalgamated.
In the other crops industry, growth of 2.5 percent was recorded despite the damaging effects of heavy rainfall during the second quarter of 2017. This is compared to 2.0 percent in 2016.
The government, through the National Agricultural Research and Extension Institute (NAREI), continued its diversification programme as well as the promotion of the development of agriculture in the hinterland region. One such initiative has seen plantain productivity improve from an average of 11 kilogrammes per bunch to 18 kilogrammes due to NAREI’s research on the black sigatoka disease, which saw farmers being trained in good agronomic practices to manage the disease.
This initiative saw plantain production in the first half of 2017 increasing by 32 percent, compared to the same period in 2016.
The livestock industry contracted by 10.9 percent in the first half of 2017, due to heavy rainfall severely affecting production, especially in the second quarter, while the fisheries industry expanded significantly by 33.2 percent in the first half of 2017, compared to the same period in 2016.
Structural changes in the forestry industry saw it contracting by 18.2 percent in the first six months of 2017, compared to the same period in 2016.
Several large concessions have not been renewed, with two of those concessions accounting for almost 30 percent of total production even as markets in China for species such as Wamara have reduced significantly.
“During the second half of 2017, forestry production is expected to rise as a result of a reallocation of 54 State Forest Authorisations (small forest concessions) covering 206,000 hectares made in March, 2017,” the report notes, adding that the Guyana Forestry Commission will continue to work closely with the ministries of Business and Foreign Affairs, and the private sector to address the United Kingdom’s ban on Guyana’s non-certified greenheart logs and engage with community forestry operators to address challenges of access to export markets