During a recent meeting with representatives of the Buxton/ Friendship farmers group and Agriculture Minister Zulfikar Mustapha, a number of issues affecting the livelihood of these agricultural workers were raised.
Farmers who cultivate farmlands in the backdams complained about the lack of drainage due to clogged canals and drains.
Chairman of the farmers group, Leroy Hamer said that, in the past, the community was not able to benefit from drainage and irrigation services.
“We were not getting the cooperation in terms of the maintenance of the waterways. The water level is very low and that causes tremendous damage to our farms. The drainage systems need to be updated and maintained. We also need irrigation. When rain falls we are flooded out and when there is the dry season we have no water to water our crops. We are farmers and if we are planting we have to get water for our crops,” Mr. Hamer said.
Minister Mustapha informed the gathering that a machine will be sent to the village to commence works on the canal in a matter of days.
“Driving into this meeting, it was clear that you need drainage. The CEO of NDIA is here and I’ve asked him to send an engineer to meet with the members of the farmers’ and community groups tomorrow. I am making a commitment to have a machine from the NDIA sent here permanently until the works have been completed,” Minister Mustapha said.
Minister Mustapha also said that other small drainage projects will be done and those works will be given to the members of the community.
“We will give contracts to persons in the community to do the manual cleaning so that employment can be in the community and revenue can be circulated. You the beneficiaries will have to sign off on the works before payments are made. If you are not pleased with the way the works are done we will hold off on making payments until you are satisfied,” Minister said
Curt Adams, a residents of the village, also raised issues of the lack of employment for young people in the village.
“The young people in this community don’t have jobs. We tried teaching the young people to farm but they cannot farm the way we farm. It is frustrating to know that they are willing to work but if we do not put systems in place, the young people would not have anything to do. There needs to be money in the system for the young people. I am a young man with a family too and it is frustrating. If I tell my son I want him to farm and he isn’t seeing any benefit coming out of farming he is going to run,” Mr. Adams said.
Residents also raise issues about the need for proper roads to access their farms.
Minister Mustapha informed the residents that, given the fact that government is operating with an emergency budget, it would not be able to carry out all the major works needed in the community this year.
“My officers are here making noted and they will provide me with a detailed report after they come and meet with you tomorrow. We will try to have some work done to the access dam but with the limited resources available, some of the major projects will have to wait until 2021. I will speak to the Minister of Public Works so that he can visit you and have a team come to assess what works can be done to your streets now because I can see that there needs to be some amount of work done to these streets. In terms of jobs, one of targets in our manifesto is to create 50,000 jobs. Rest assured, residents of Buxton will benefit from those jobs. If a Government cannot provide employment for the young people, crime will progress and that is not the vision of the Government,” Minister Mustapha said.
A number of persons expressed their interest in getting into farming, but sought the assistance of the Minister with providing basic farming tools such as power saws, grass cutters and cutlasses.
MoA Chief Technical Officer, George Jervis informed the group that the Ministry currently has a project ongoing that should see persons benefiting from tools and other small agriculture equipment.
“Once approval is given for us to execute that aspect, we will be able to assist you with tools to be equitably distributed within the community. I don’t think that we will be able to come and give each person a machine in their hands so we will make the donation to the group so that all farmers can have access to them,” Mr. Jervis said.
The subject Minister also took the time to encourage farmers to move away from subsistence farming.
“We have to do agriculture in a different way. NAREI will be commencing a Smart Agriculture Project where they will be making shadehouse materials available to farmers at a cost price. The revenues from this will be put into a revolving fund so that materials can always be available. We are also looking to secure more markets for your produce. I won’t encourage you to increase your production without working to ensure you have markets. Over the next few months, we will be revamping a number of agencies, including the Guyana Marketing Corporation to ensure they place more emphasis on finding markets, both locally and in the Caribbean for your produce,” Minister Mustapha said.
Minister Mustapha also distributed a number of seeds to farmers as part of the recommenced seed distribution initiative.