Anyone surveying the agricultural sector in Guyana is bound to come away disappointed and troubled. What should be a rising star and major plank of the economy is instead a lost ragged dog with no interested nurturing master. In this country, it as if the Ministry of Agriculture has done what Scipio and the Romans did to ancient Carthage: they ploughed the land and sowed it with salt, thus rendering it perpetually cursed.
All things considered, it is safe to say that, some two and a half years into the new government, other than an isolated offshoot project here and there, agricultural visions and projects on a meaningful gargantuan scale have been truly pickled and salted. That is, they are either non-existent, or have been decimated to the point of invisibility and irrelevancy. There is really nothing out there to spark the imagination or thrill with promise.
Now I did read (yet again) in recent times that old fatigued business about breadbasket; as breadbaskets go, this one has no bottom, and it may not have sides either. There was also that not surprising revelation of a two hundred million dollar (US) food importation bill. That is forty billion Guyana dollars on foreign food imports, and it may not be the whole story. Forty billion is enough for me to want to consider returning to Burnham days and import bans. Using an approximate population of 700,000 that amounts to close to $60,000 of food imports per citizen. Many people in this country do not have access to $60,000. Regardless, it is an outrageous and sobering figure, in view of this country’s resources and potential. The latter is increasingly becoming a dirty word.
What does this government, through the Ministry of Agriculture, have in the works to stem first and then reverse considerably this foreign currency suction? What is there for mega projects in terms of food production? What is in store, given the state of GuySuCo, so many unemployed, and so much rich cultivatable land at the fingertips? What is being done to incentivize and to attract, and to gather a cohort of committed contributors to reap the fruits of the sprawling neglected land lying underfoot? What does the budget have to say, if anything?
Long before Guyanese reinvented themselves as oilmen and a gold men, there was much talk, but lukewarm interest and follow-through, on capitalizing on the bounty that begs for the exploitation. This is both shame and ongoing tragedy, a terrible waste in so many ways, and with sharp pinching in the pants of the economy at many points. It is time that some energetic, visionary, hard-driving commander assumes the helm at agriculture and put it to work. What is there and who is there are not doing so.
To repeat the commonplace, this country has the potential (there we go again) to be the supreme agricultural presence (food producer, earner, supplier, and secure partner) in the region. And that is for starters. A half-century later, it is still grasping for elusive pies where there just might be no skies. In fact, there may not be any grasping at all, and this is so for government after government. I believe that the constricting narrowness in thinking is so pronounced that the agricultural bucket is not seen as half empty. Worse, it is that no bucket is seen at all. Hence, there is the usual grand national rhetoric that does not increase acreage under cultivation, or products to be emphasized, or yields that may be improved.
It is just the same listless talk that impresses none and moves none. I am reminded of Marlon Brando in that cinematic thriller, On the Waterfront where he lamented, “I coulda been a contender, I coulda been somebody…” Too many times I have heard that melancholy refrain right here in Guyana; agriculture might just be the most pathetic of all. So much promised, so much wasted. Yes, like Brando, Guyana is in appearance and reality the equivalent of an agricultural bum; of course, it comes at the cost of US$200 million and then some more.