Agriculture has what it takes to drive the economy post Covid-19 – Mustapha

A vegetable stall at a market in Georgetown

Even though the agriculture sector is struggling to deal with the impacts of the unprecedented pandemic, Agriculture Minister Zulfikar Mustapha is of the firm conviction that the industry has what it takes to drive the economy after Covid-19.

He made this revelation this morning during a virtual webinar hosted by the Guyana Manufacturing Services Association (GMSA) and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).

During the conversation, which was divided into three segments, the Agriculture Minister said that since March 2020, the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have been felt not only in public health systems, but in the wider the economy.

“First let me say, the Agriculture Sector has what it takes to drive the economy Post-COVID-19,” Minister Mustapha expressed.

Moreover, he recognised that the COVID-19 pandemic has amplified Guyana’s awareness of the importance of food security.

Agriculture Minister Zulfikar Mustapha

“Guyana is a food secured country…Guyana produces 59% of its food consumption, which means our food import dependency is 41%. It is the government’s intention to reduce this import dependency by creating an enabling environment for an efficient and competent local manufacturing sector.

The Minister also revealed some of the findings of a regional assessment on the impacts of COVID-19 on Food Security and the Agriculture Sectors done during July and August of this year. The survey was conducted by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and Caribbean Community (CARICOM).

Preliminary findings point to a decline in farmers’ income by an average of 20-50%; difficulties assessing agriculture inputs like seeds, and planting materials; and price of seeds and fertilizers are higher than usual.

Food traders have also recorded a decline in customers, resulting in a slump in sales.
Having regards to this, the Minister said that Guyana must focus on ways to expand and shift agriculture from primary producer to value-added, to reduce the 41% dependence on imports, which include, processed products, dairy products, grains such as corn and soybean, etc.

This expansion, he noted, will aid in the reduction of the country’s domestic Food Import Bill of GUY$45Billion. The Agriculture Minister added that there is also the opportunity for Guyana to tap into the estimated US$8-10B (2020) CARICOM Market Food Import Bill.