This is one of those ‘seasons’ when our municipal market are at their brilliant best, bursting at the seams with fresh fruit and vegetables at prices that bring out throngs of shoppers and generate the kind of bulk buying that gives rise to long periods of food storage. It is a time too when you are most inclined to believe that Guyana can, indeed, become the food basket of the Caribbean…on the condition, of course, that more resources are ploughed into continually improving both the quality and the volumes of our agricultural produce and equally importantly that we move to upgrade our capacity to add value to what we produce and to raise standards of manufacturing and packaging for export. Competitiveness is unlikely to be a problem. No country in the region can come even close to matching Guyana’s agricultural output…except on account of our own indifference.
We have, of course, long passed the point of making noises about our agricultural potential, that potential, over the years, having failed to realize the ambitions that we have set ourselves. We have, for example, been unable to do a great deal to fend off the billions of dollars in fresh fruit and vegetables that continue to pour in from outside the region. We have also been unable to emulate countries like Mexico, Brazil, and the Dominican Republic in developing strong and competitive agro-processing sectors. Where we have failed as well is in our palpable neglect of the bilateral opportunity afforded by the technological tools of our neighbour to the South, Brazil, to strengthen both ‘the science’ of our agriculture and the capabilities of our manufacturing sector. These are weaknesses, truth be told, for which there are no good excuses save and except, arguably, a deficiency in our own diligence.
There have been times, recently, when we had dared to hope that we were getting somewhere insofar as our agricultural sector was concerned…like the time not too many years ago when there had been an audible hum over the fact that Guyana had been assigned the task of being the region’s ‘point’ country on agriculture and when there was talk about bilateral cooperation between Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago at the private sector level to create mega-farms that would focus not only on the export of fruit and vegetables but also on the setting up of processing plants in order to create an accompanying agro-processing sector. Funny how highly touted, elaborately publicized MOU’s and various other types of agreements can simply vanish into thin air as though they never existed in the first place.
These days, one thinks of our agricultural sector as a highly touted, highly talented athlete whose blue ribbon performances happen strictly on home soil…and that peculiarity is not on account of a lack of opportunity.
Some things in the pipeline give cause for a measure of optimism…like the undertaking given by the Guyana Manufacturing and Services Association that its ‘high level’ engagements with government officials will include a robust lobby for the importation of a plant to enable the accelerated growth of the agro-processing sector. That – if it comes through without the customary prevarication and delay should change the face of an undernourished agro-processing sector that is still nowhere close to making an impact on our foreign earnings, There are other countries in Asia and elsewhere whose manufactured food exports have long graduated beyond the shelves of shops run by their own shopkeepers who specialize in offering ‘a little of this and a little of that’ to patrons who still long for a taste of the home country. We have long been at that point where we now need to have our manufactured goods finding their way onto the ‘top shelves’ of the bigger food outlets in the metropolis. It is by no means an unattainable goal. It is simply a matter of ending the practice of burdening everything with bureaucracy and ‘getting it done’ like others no more well-off than ourselves do.
There is, incidentally, the matter of the return visit to Guyana by the Brazilians with whom a group of state officials visited in Brazil some months ago. Insofar as we had been told this was to be a precursor to a significant investment in lands and in farming. There is a need to get a sense that that project is moving. The kind of dilatoriness that sometimes attends these projects can give rise to the most overwhelming frustration.
Sometimes you get to thinking that there is a need for us to do more to draw attention to ourselves, what we do and what we can offer. In that regard tourism continues to be a ‘drag.’ The numbers say so. Truth be told for all the song and dance Guyana is simply not ‘geared up’ for tourism. The carnivals and other ‘nice time’ events are fine but the bottom line is that there is simply not sufficient tourist infrastructure. Such infrastructure as exists is mostly poorly cared for and neither the public nor the private sector appears inclined to make any meaningful investment in the sector at this time. There is a feeling too that the sector may have too many layers of bureaucracy.
Wherever we roam we find ourselves returning to agriculture as a kind of ‘first base.’ It is where there exists the most potential and the most leeway for bragging rights. The problem is that we can only brag about what we achieve. Oil may be on the horizon… but somehow it seems that there are no bragging rights there. There are earnings and earnings bring a certain kind of development. But that is different in an era when the environment and ‘green economies’ are not only quite fashionable but quite environmentally comforting into the bargaining.