The 2018 Agriculture budgetary allocation saw a decrease of $1.351 billion over the 2017 allocation. This allocation was approved by the Committee of Supply without any debate, hence the lack of reason for this decrease. Other things being equal, it would have been assumed that the monies saved from the GuySuCo subsidy would have been used to strengthen the other agriculture subsectors. This would have been more urgent given the dire poverty being experienced by some sugar dependent communities such as Wales, Rose Hall and Skeldon. However, this does not seem to be the case.
It will be revealing to quickly assess the allocations in the Agriculture Capital Budget and the source of funds.
The Agriculture Capital Budget is $4.6 billion funded by foreign grants and loans to the tune of $2.587 billion with funding by the central government accounting for $2.014 billion.
The foreign grants and loans came from the CDB, IDB, IFAD, IDA, CDF and the Governments of India and Japan. These loans and grants were given for specific projects in specific areas aimed at alleviating the drainage and irrigation problems; rehabilitating access dams; supplying technical assistance; the construction and rehabilitation of agriculture centres; and funding pilot projects in meat processing and environmentally sustainable agriculture development projects in Regions 1 and 9.
It is worthwhile to note that the hinterland project will provide investment plans, investment funds, SOFA studies and institutional strengthening, which is highly laudable, since it will definitely increase production and productivity in Regions 1 and 9. A similar initiative by central government in those depressed sugar communities would have breathed some life into them. But I guess the needs of these communities are not a priority.
The central government contribution of $2.014 billion went mostly towards drainage and irrigation, while some went towards improving rice variety and seed production, refurbishing the Guyana School of Agriculture, NAREI and the New GMC, while some will be spent on improving our hydromet services.
Undoubtedly, drainage and irrigation are vitally important and should be given due emphasis; so are the research and development programmes. These will definitely improve the production and productivity levels to a certain extent. But it must be pointed out here that eventually the laws of diminishing returns will take effect, and no matter how many inputs we continue to administer on a fixed amount of land the marginal output will decrease. So what happens then?
While the Agriculture sector budget is addressing the replacement of pumps, sluices, access dams and the purchase of other machinery and equipment, there is a definite need to address the amount of arable land available for the expansion of our agriculture subsectors. This is a sore area for our farmers, especially our rice farmers who are forced to rent lands at exploitative rates thereby adding as much as 20% to their cost of production.
Moreover, there is currently a growing market for our rice and paddy, but the Ministry of Agriculture lacks the vision to take full advantage of that. Region 6 has vast lands bordering on more than 200,000 acres standing idle, while farmers are being held at ransom by some avaricious landowners. When will governments learn that they need to do like the Apaches and put their ears to the ground? What is wrong with our policy-makers? Are they satisfied with ‘cutting and pasting’ or just adjusting figures? I have heard about budget consultations but I am yet to determine if these are the right stakeholders who have been consulted. The availability of land for agricultural purposes needs to be increased and all the red tape and bureaucracy removed.
A good friend brought to my notice the fact that when we hear about increased production it is normally pegged against the decrease from last year’s figure, resulting in the current year looking bigger and better. This type of yo-yo effect is deceiving, since the land under cultivation remains fixed. What has happened is that either more or less of the same land is cultivated at any given time. Can anyone recall how long ago it was since new lands were brought under cultivation in Region 6? Definitely ages ago! Yet the Ministry of Agriculture wants increased production. It’s like Pharaoh commanding the Israelites to make bricks without straw. It is simple: more land leads to more cultivation and hence more production. Do we need the usual expensive international consultants to make this revelation?
In conclusion, the Agriculture capital budget lacks the vision needed to transform the agriculture sector, especially in agriculture-based regional economies such as Region 6, where there is a drastic need for more lands to become accessible to farmers.