Despite the large subsidies given to the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) over the years, there has been no positive impact on the financial state of the corporation, according to Agriculture Minister Noel Holder, who yesterday said it is a situation the economy “simply cannot afford.”
In his presentation during the continuing debate on the government’s proposed 2018 national budget, Holder offered no sweetener to the hundreds of sugar workers, who are being laid off around the country and who are crying out. Instead, he said the country’s framework for governing the industry has to evolve and become more in tune with reducing vulnerabilities, resolving institutional and legacy issues and diversifying away from sugar to more sustainable industries.
Holder did tell the National Assembly that come next year, sugar cane yield is expected to increase from 55 tonnes of cane per hectare to 78.43 tonnes of cane per hectare.
He also said this improvement in yield will see the three remaining estates attaining close to their maximum productivity for sugar. “Sugar production will rise from 115,447 tonnes sugar in 2018 to 145,247 tonnes in 2020, an increase of 26%,” he projected.
The three remaining estates are Albion, Blairmont and Uitvlugt. The Skeldon, Rose Hall and Enmore are expected to be divested or diversified. The government, in the ‘State Paper on the Future of the Sugar Industry,’ had previously indicated that GuySuCo would aim to produce 147,000 tonnes of sugar annually from the remaining estates.
Holder also reported that to further counteract the effects of the changes in the European Union sugar regime, GuySuCo is looking to produce white sugar for sale in the local, Caricom and US markets. There are also a number of cost-saving initiatives which have been identified to assist in lowering the cost of production further, he further noted.
Holder also addressed the rice sector and pointed out that despite the uncertainty that surrounded the industry following the loss of the Venezuelan market, it still managed to surpass production and export targets.
For 2017, Holder said paddy production has been tallied at 956,326.7 metric tonnes, and farmers have received as much as $3,500 per bag of paddy in regions Four and Five.
Come next year, he further noted, it is estimated that rice production will increase by 2.5% to 617,353 tonnes.
He disclosed that exports declined by 1% between January to October of 2017 when compared to the same period last year but due to the higher prices the export value was 5% higher at US$163,605,766 for the same period. In 2018, the exports to 34 countries are projected at 520,000 metric tonnes, at an estimated value of $176,890,000. Five new export markets have been secured in Canada, the US, Cuba, Mexico and Peru.
The 2018 budget will see $19.4 billion allocated to the sector, which Holder noted is one of the largest allocations for the sector and therefore highlights the administration’s unrelenting commitment to agriculture.
He said that the budget would meet the challenges of extreme weather and resource scarcity and more volatile markets directly and indirectly and at the same time “allows us to capitalise on our comparative advantage.”
In 2018, according to Holder, agriculture will continue to contribute 14% to the economy through inputs in the areas of livestock, fisheries, crops, drainage and irrigation, education, hydrometeorology, pesticide management and marketing.
Holder also said that hinterland agricultural development continues to feature prominently on the government’s agenda and it has seen plans for the rehabilitation and expansion of the agriculture station at Ebini in the Berbice savannahs and the establishment of a new station at Pirara in the Rupununi, among others.
Additionally, Holder highlighted the expansion of the coconut industry, noting the resurgence of markets for coconut products even as the government actively pursues the revitalisation of the coconut industry through the National Agricultural Research and Extension Institute and the Hope coconut estate. It is estimated that an additional 5,000 acres would be under cultivation within the next three years.
According to the minister, the Hope estate was in ruins when the government assumed office and today it readily provides coconut producers with adequate amounts of high quality coconut seedlings at an affordable cost.
As regards the livestock industry, Holder said it is projected to grow 4.4% in 2017 and 2% in 2018 compared with a decline of 5.8%. He stated that improved consumer demand and producer confidence in beef, milk, mutton, pork and table eggs contributed to the increase this year.
Meanwhile, poultry meat production grew by 5% in 2016 and was projected to grow by 10% this year but instead is expected to contract by 13%. “The continued high level of smuggled chickens are perhaps the main causes for the reduction of the local poultry meat production,” the minister added.
Addressing the fisheries sub-sector, Holder reported positive growth over 2016 to 2017. In 2016, he said a positive growth of an “impressive” 18.1% was recorded, while for 2017 a 1% growth is anticipated due to the stronger enforcement of cross-border fishing regulations, and a 2.3% growth is projected for 2018 due to higher consumer demand.
In order to deal with illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, Holder said the proposed acquisition of a sea monitoring vessel, valued at $54 million is expected to increase monitoring, control and surveillance (MCS). It is also expected that there will be an increase in licensed vessels in the artisanal fleet due to the increased MSC.
Meanwhile, Holder said some $6.1 billion has been allocated to the area of drainage and irrigation (D&I) in the 2018 budget and this will see the construction and rehabilitation of sluices, culverts, conservancy regulators and other D&I structures across the vulnerable regions.
Holder added that seven fixed pump stations will be constructed to accommodate nine pumps at Nooten Zuil and Hope, on the East Coast of Demerara; Mora Point, Mahaicony River; and Den Amstel, Hampton and Devonshire Castle, on the Essequibo Coast.
He also mentioned that the new year will also see the ministry expanding its water monitoring capabilities to include water quality monitoring through the completion of its water quality laboratory and the reactivation of the Groundwater Resources Division, which was dormant for over two decades, and the initiation of a groundwater monitoring programme and licensing system.