CARDI finalising investment for 5,000-acre Ebini farming project

The Caribbean Agricultural Research Development Institute (CARDI) is tying up investment for its planned US-multimillion-dollar agriculture production and processing project at Ebini, in Region Ten, and it hopes the success of the venture will stimulate more interest in the sector.

“We are hoping that in the long run the success of this initiative would then attract other investors from within the region and outside the region in agriculture production,” Morris Wilson, Coordinator of the 5,000-acre agriculture and agro processing project at Ebini, told Sunday Stabroek during a telephone interview.

“Not just in the Intermediate Savannahs but any other location in Guyana because Guyana needs an onslaught of investment to be able to move into production of agricultural products and services to move up the ladder,” Wilson added. 

Wilson is based in Trinidad and Tobago but the project will be managed here by local CARDI head Dr. Cyril Roberts.

Sunday Stabroek recently reported that the planned project, which is located in the country’s Intermediate Savannahs, would see the cultivation of several crops, including rice and corn, which will be processed and used as animal feed locally, with the intention of later catering for the livestock needs of other CARICOM countries, particularly Trinidad and Tobago.

Through the Ministry of Agriculture, CARDI was able to broker the agreement, this publication was told.

Government has remained silent on the project but since taking office in 2015 it has been emphasising the potential of the Intermediate Savannahs for investments in agriculture and agro-processing.

CARDI had submitted a proposal to government for 15,000 acres of land but is starting the project with 5,000 acres, the success of which will determine the release of additional acreage.

Commissioner of the Guyana Lands and Surveys Commission (GL&SC) Trevor Benn has told Sunday Stabroek that the 5,000 acres have already been approved by his agency and that it was now up to CARDI to commence the project.

Hard bargain

Wilson explained that CARDI applied for the land since 2015 and had hoped that based on its project plan it would get government’s swift approval so that it could move ahead with talks with investors, who were identified since the project’s initiation. However, he said that negotiations for the land took longer than expected as CARDI was hoping to have the rental and other fees waived, since the project is geared towards the development of the country.

But government drove a hard bargain, informing that CARDI would be only given 5,000 acres in the first instance and added acreage would be granted when it demonstrated its capacity to successfully develop those lands.

“We applied for the land and they invoiced us and we are using this for accelerating the access of funds. The plan has always been that once allocated the land, that we use that allocation to access the investment funds… the allocation of the land has taken a bit longer because we, of course, being a regional institution, we were trying to get the land granted at no rental fee at least for the first few years. This is because—and you would appreciate that there is a long gestation period for development for 5,000 acres—and so we had some delay as we negotiated with the Government of Guyana, because we wanted to be able to have the lands located with no bulk of rentals and inspection fees at the onset,” he explained.

“That is where we are at the moment. We really have not yet occupied or taken possession of the lands that have been allocated by Lands and Surveys. We have been making progress with the investment and at this stage the availability of those is a bit sensitive, so I can’t give you much more. It is an overseas investment fund but we were attempting to engage some local and regional investors. We have been talking to these investors since year before the last. The bureaucracy involved in the distribution and allocation of the land has contributed to some delays. We are coming to a conclusion now and I am hoping that the end of that negotiation process is near,” he added.

When the investment is obtained, Wilson said CARDI envisages a long-term full-scale coconut plantation, where harvests would be processed on location, alongside other cultivations.

He said that CARDI is hoping to have the 5,000 acres occupied within the first five years as it knows that based on what Benn has indicated, getting additional acreage is tied to its initial success.

“I am aware that in other areas lots of land has been allocated but not even 20% utilised and this is a disappointment expressed by the Lands and Surveys. So, they are anxious that we do well with the 5,000 acres given to us,” he pointed out.

Wilson underscored the need for both agriculture production and processing, while saying that CARDI hopes to transfer the knowledge it has in both areas.

“At CARDI, we are basically transferring our technology that we have been generating over the years to a production initiative… The same as other governments in the region, the Guyana government wants us to transfer the technology into production and this is the background to this initiative,” he noted.

Guyana, he said, was chosen over other Caricom nations, because of the availability of land.

Integration

According to Wilson, since CARDI needs to conclude with investors on the quantum needed to develop the 5,000 acres, he could not go into details of the plan, but he gave a basic overview.

“The first 5,000 acres, based on the business plan prepared, is going to have a range of perennial crops and some livestock. We are not going to stick at the level of primary production .We are going to integrate the integration process so we have added products as well. So there will be a stage where we will have primary production but it will be integrated, to some extent, so that there is some processing of products produced on location,” he explained.

“Our production programme is based on a system of intercropping with the perennial crops. A lot of the perennial crops will be coconuts, and a good production system includes that while the coconuts are growing, there is an intercrop of shorter crops so that there is revenue generated while the coconuts are being established. There is a process by which you accumulate the seedlings for coconuts, for example. No one is able to start from scratch and have all the seedlings available for the entire acreage projected for coconuts. For that, we have a crop rotation system in which we start with some shorter crops and that is how the stock feed initiative came. So, we will establish in the shorter term crops like corn, because we know there is a demand. This whole thing is market driven,” he added.

Corn is used locally and regionally for livestock feed.

CARDI is also mulling rearing primarily small ruminants, such as sheep and goats at the location but Wilson was quick to point out that it was not “necessarily only confined to small ruminants” as its team here in Guyana will advise on the way forward. “Inasmuch as I am saying this, much of what we have to do is based on direct on the ground management by the management team looking at this project. So, if for instance if the project management teams says plant 500 acres of corn and 500 acres of soya bean, those decisions I cannot make at this time because it will be based on the management on the ground,” he noted.

“You have a business plan but circumstance may occur that require certain adjustments in implementing what you planned. We start off with the crops where we have seed available, logistics available, where the technical expertise available and we do what is the most prudent thing while the perennial crops have been established. We integrate the primary production with added-value activity,” he added.

Bigger picture

With an agro processing factory expected to be set up at Ebini, Wilson said that CARDI hopes that it would be catalyst for Berbice River farmers to also provide cash crop produce.

“…Pepper is one of the crops we will be growing and you know people in the Upper Berbice River can be involved. People in the Upper Berbice River plant a lot. And say pepper, for example, that can be pro-cessed into making pepper sauce and that type of thing from the peppers there. The peppers don’t even have to be peppers grown from the 5,000 acres, it can be peppers grown on other people’s land that is procured for processing within the 5,000 development plan,” he said.

“Assuming that this model works successfully, it is a model that can be applied to any part of Guyana really, where community develops based on the extent of investment in agriculture and integrated work based on primary production. So, you are talking about a whole new model of work that can take the agri sector to the highest possible level right across Guyana.  It is a project that cannot be treated in isolation. The Government of Guyana and other governments are aware that this is the type of investment that is needed, the agro zone. Government has been promoting this type of thing… with success of course,” he added.

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