Finance Minister Winston Jordan in his 2018 Budget presentation assured the Agriculture sector that “the Government is committed to improving the livelihoods of rice farmers.” He further added that, “one important aspect of strengthening the stability and sustainability of Guyana’s rice sector is to increase productivity per unit.” However, he needs to observe what is currently happening in the rice sector in order to achieve this objective.
Currently, rice farmers are facing two serious constraints: high land rent and a high rate of paddy damage due to paddy bug infestations. Both of these have resulted in an escalation of the cost of production by at least 30%. The government can make a huge difference in Region 6, but it is clear that sound economic advice on agricultural policies is seriously lacking or is overlooked.
Many representations were made by rice farmers and interested stakeholders who would have foreseen that unless the government encourages the mechanization of the rice industry then there will come a time when rice farmers within the industry will feel the negative effects and suffer declining profitability, and many will be forced to exit the industry.
However, even though the Finance Minister is ecstatic about his allocations to Public Infrastructure and Agriculture of $35 billion and $19.5 billion respectively, Region 6 is not the beneficiary of any transformative project, despite being plunged into serious impending social and economic crisis which will arise from the negative ripple effects emanating the GuySuCo restructuring and privatization. Privatization will not magically and immediately bring Skeldon and Rose Hall Estates to prosperity; time is of the essence to allow the benefits to flow. The downsizing of estate operations will also mean more workers on the breadline as in the case of the Rose Hall Estate.
A project which was much touted and publicized is the No 58-59 all-weather road which was introduced by Mr Gobin Harbhajan, the PM’s Representative for Region 6 and a team of interested stakeholders. This project has the blessings of the Regional Democratic Council and copies were circulated to various ministers. It was also lauded at the recently concluded Berbice Expo by the President of the Central Chamber of Commerce in his address. It must be noted that it has been a long time since any type of sustainable economic development was done in Region 6, the last one would have been in the 1960s by the PPP government at Black Bush Polder. An attempt at this project was made by the PPP in 1963 and some work was later done by the PNC government, but it gradually petered out.
On many occasions President Granger had thrown the gauntlet to Berbicians to come up with transformative plans to stimulate economic recovery as he alluded to the fact that Berbice is a “sleeping giant” and can become the “rice bowl” of the country. He knows too well that oil is not the answer, and examples abound of countries being oil rich and yet starving. We must note that fossil oil is not a renewable resource but coconut oil is!
This all-weather road is capable of exploiting approximately 150,000 acres of arable lands which are suitable for rice cultivation, cattle farming, citrus, provisions, vegetables, coconut cultivation, and aquaculture. Immediately, this will solve the problem of high rentals since the supply of rice farming and other arable lands would have been greatly increased. This is taken into consideration both sides of the Canje Creek.
The establishment of industrial sites will make way for agro-processing plants to be established to widen the markets for the produce. Moreso, the residents of Baracara will benefit enormously from such a road making it possible for this village to greatly expand its borders and get immediate access to markets for their produce. This road will also provide an impetus to our fledgling tourism industry, more specifically eco-tourism. The flora and fauna are simply breathtaking.
Moreover, there are many such revenue generating projects which are standing idle simply because of permission not being granted. Businessmen are investing monies and are willing to make huge investments but red tape and bureaucracy are stifling or strangling them. The Finance Minister had promised to remove these fatal obstructions a few Budgets ago, yet they continue to thrive luxuriantly.
In addition, many businessmen have applied for lands to do investments such as cattle rearing and livestock production, but the files are facilitating the reproduction of cobwebs at the Guyana Lands and Survey Commission. Some have moved on with their finances.
The Finance Minister and the Minister of Business must seriously review these impediments to economic growth.
In conclusion I am calling on the government through the Finance Minister and the Business Minister to allow these transformative projects to bear fruit. As an RDC councillor, I envisage dark days ahead in Region 6 if our agriculture based economy is not given the boost and stimulation it so badly needs.