We need to accelerate agricultural development

Dear Editor,

Over the past few months, I have read a number of articles in the daily newspapers connected to agriculture in Guyana. I was very impressed with that in KN of 24th August 2017 captioned ‘Why isn’t agriculture in STEM?’ The other which gained my rapt attention was the editorial in SN of 25th August 2017 titled  ‘Agricultural policy needed’. Now, despite the fact that all of the articles are relevant to the present woes in the development of agriculture in Guyana, this wider development must be the result of a lack of progress in this field going back as far as four score years.

During World War II 1939-45, there was a sign on the zinc fence of the T&HD shunting yard at High & Lamaha Sts, which read ‘Grow More Food’ under which there was a picture of a soldier with an agricultural fork over his shoulder. The message being conveyed was a direct result of the havoc which the German U-Boats were wreaking on the Atlantic shipping lanes resulting in a number of allied merchant ships being sent to the bottom. Hence there was marked decline in the landing of basic food items in Georgetown. A number of us resorted to roasting our plantains under the coalpot or the more fortunate in their Dover stoves. Plantains, eddoes and yams replaced to a great extent, potatoes, a staple in our diet.

A subsequent effort at import substitution was made during the life of the Food, Clothe and House thrust in the 1970s during the Burnham regime. Some success was achieved in that we no longer had to rely on the Canadian ships to bring us cabbage from Canada. Passion fruit and green ginger were also introduced and grown in quantities to meet local market demand.

It means that from 1939 to 2017 a period of seventy odd years in an area encompassing 83,000 square miles with varied elevations and temperatures that only three new items of now described non-traditional crops have been propagated in commercial quantities in Guyana.

Where can we find the evidence of initiatives taken in the years between the much vaunted potato pursuit at Kato in the early 1970s and the Propel experiment in 2016-17 at Moblissa and other sites? Why is it only now determined that onions and potatoes and recently turmeric which we spent millions of dollars in scarce foreign currency to import could now be commercially grown in locations in Guyana? I can only conclude that there was a countrywide scheme involving certain rapacious people in British Guiana/Guyana to sabotage any effort to grow certain food items because it suited their financial wellbeing to have them imported. Those ranged from merchants and commission agents to the top of officialdom. I suspect that it was the reason that the continued existence of the 4H clubs where our youths were exposed to the basics of agriculture among other skills contributory to a rounded education was undermined and terminated. It is absolutely necessary that it be revived with urgency. Our youths need to be impressed at an early age with the relevance of pH to Agricultural Science and not merely the input of animal manure and be told that “one has a ‘good hand’”.

If global warming is a fact of life we have to prepare for the inundation of our coastline where most of our agricultural activity is concentrated. In this regard, there has to be a serious foray into the lands at least 25 miles from the coastline and the Brasilia example is not without merit.

Bodies like ACDA, PANAF and our foreign service diplomats should be in the vanguard of soliciting a transfer of technology to Guyana in all aspects of agriculture where African and other countries are excelling.

Editor, some months ago I saw a photograph in the Guyana Chronicle of an oxcart at Nappi village. I wondered then to what extent draft animals are being utilized in rural areas in the conduct of farming, and if their extended use was ever considered by officers of the Ministry of Agriculture. They are being used extensively in Uganda and Amish counties in the USA. Their varied use in many aspects of farming are on show at agriculture exhibitions with the attachments for ploughing, tilling, seeding and watering. They are an alternative tool for the small farmer who would not need to stretch his meagre resources to purchase a mechanical machine at great cost. They are very functional in small to medium size homestead acreage.

An important input into the agriculture sector is the dissemination of information in order to sensitize farmers about relevant modern practices and inputs. Our audio and visual media are bereft of adequate coverage and time apportioned to agriculture activities leading to a professional and aggressive commitment. There needs to be more time and technical content devoted to this activity in the media both at the centre and in the regions.

When I read recently about the acquisition of some automatic weather stations I wondered if the sharing of present and significant meteorological information or forecasts would be facilitated.  How wide and expeditiously would the public be notified of a significant drop in the atmospheric pressure in any area and what sort of weather phenomenon was trending to positively or adversely affect a stage of cultivation.

There is a lot of hype attached to our yearly and other exhibitions at Sophia and elsewhere in the Regions. I have progressively been taken aback by the paucity of new varied agri-based products on exhibit. This time in 2017 is not one to gloat over sugar cake or a large dried coconut. Why is an entity like the Carnegie School of Home Economics not visible and showcasing various cheeses, ham, sausages, yogurts and other products, the inputs for which are available in whatever quantities in Guyana. The fact that government has refused to be a catalyst in directly facilitating the importation of various types and sizes of glass bottles has in some measure constrained the movement of cottage industries, not to mention the holding of canning workshops in the Regions for food preservation. There is a dearth of evidence at those exhibitions where trophies, plaques or even ribbons are awarded to exhibitors for excellence or just mere participation. Where are the inputs from organizations like the YMCA and YWCA? Where are the products from school gardens? What part does a livestock judging contest play at these exhibitions or even various types of forage?

Surely there is room for displaying when in season, the most succulent genips, star apples, persimmons, varied mango species, mammies, grapes, granadillas, broccoli, mushrooms, lychee, logan, iceberg lettuce, honeydew melons, cantaloupes, carrots, sugar apples, custard apples, guavas and cauliflower. Why is the cultivation of these items not encouraged? Subject to quarantine arrangements there are a host of tropical tolerant fruit trees which could have been introduced into Guyana over the past decade. Is it beyond the scope of our young people for their energies to be properly channelled? When are we going to stop the town and village days as an excuse, in large part, for a Main Big Lime with the dancehall Clapham Junction amplified noise?

Thomas Jefferson stated that “the greatest contribution that one could make to a country is to introduce a new plant to its culture”.

Cannot the recipients of house lots in a given locale be persuaded to grow a particular new fruit species after soil samples have been taken to determine a particular pH friendly fruit tree or garden vegetable? There are a host of avenues in agriculture which are open to interested persons who do not possess a secondary or tertiary education. Our women could seek out an entity called FarmHer whereby they can become engaged in agriculture with minimum input.

I wonder how many planners are afforded the opportunity of visiting an agricultural trade fair overseas in order to widen their horizons. It is obvious that there is need for a more aggressive, agile, visionary and technically exposed individual at the helm. Time is not on our side.

Finally, allow me to close on a personal note. At the age of ten or thereabouts when doing Nature Study at Queenstown RC School, the class was exposed to the experiment of germinating a blackeye bean in a glass with water and blotting paper. My daughter reminded me that she had a similar experience at St Agnes School at the age of 8 years. My grandson of three years four months attends a Discovery Montessori school in Georgia. He was recently photographed in a class preparing the germination of a sweet potato in a jar of water with tooth picks inserted into the skin.

Yours faithfully,

A Alexander

Deputy Director of Civil Aviation

(ret’d)

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