Agriculture Ministry working to lift US catfish ban

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Zulfikar Mustapha

Agriculture Minister, Zulfikar Mustapha has committed towards lifting the US-imposed catfish ban, which was instituted against Guyana in early 2018 under the Granger-led administration.

He shared this position shared on Wednesday after meeting with Country Representative of the Food and Agriculture Organization in the United Nations (FAO), Dr Gillian Smith.

“As a matter of fact, agriculture and the fisheries sector will be collaborating closely with the FAO because we need to work together to ensure we improve our systems in the fisheries sector. One of my main objectives is to get the ban lifted from the exportation of catfish to the United States. Our fisherfolks have been suffering a lot. So we are working assiduously to have that problem rectified,” Minister Mustapha said.

The ban by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) was instituted against Guyana in 2018. According to the regulations, Guyana must be able to catch catfish and transport it to a processing plant while it is alive. This is in contradiction to what is being practised here, whereby the fish is caught, disembowelled and the carcass is iced until it reaches the shore.

Over two years had elapsed under the coalition administration and the situation remained unfixed.

Former Agriculture Minister, Noel Holder had claimed that ‘bureaucratic movements’ were creating a delays in having the issue resolved.

During this time, the fisherfolks have lost a viable income-earning stream and has been facing financial constraints.

Meanwhile, Minister Mustapha also indicated that Government is currently engaging the Surinamese Government as it relates to licensing of fisherfolk from the Corentyne area.

The Ministry will also be putting systems in place to improve the aquaculture system in Guyana, noting the lack of an organized means of operating. Farmers will now be given guidance and much needed extension services in order to develop the country’s aquaculture systems.

Over the years, the FAO has assisted Guyana with four priority areas, namely: food security and nutrition; Agricultural and rural development, Renewable natural resources and climate change, Agricultural health and food safety.

From August 18 to 21, the FAO Regional Conference for Latin America and the Caribbean will be held virtually and Guyana is scheduled to participate.

Dr Smith noted that this platform is the organization’s highest decision-making body, with Agriculture Ministers from all 33 member states of the FAO meeting to discuss policies and developmental areas for agriculture across the Region.

“Traditionally, in the past, Guyana has had a very significant leadership role in agriculture in CARICOM. When Guyana goes to the FAO Regional Conference, it usually goes in a leadership role. It provides that sort of convening and facilitating for the rest of agriculture and it would be good to be able to see that again because at this conference, FAO makes its decisions about how support is given to the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean going forward for the next few years,” the representative expressed.

She further stated that it is important for Guyana to be prepared to put its needs on the table, particularly in this post COVID-19 era. According to her, if Guyana is not prepared, it can miss opportunities to garner support.