Govt should carefully examine push to expand agriculture in the interior region, says Seeraj

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Government’s push to have agriculture extended to the hinterland region is something that should be carefully examined, as it may not be an economical undertaking, Opposition Member of Parliament (MP) and executive of the Guyana Rice Producers Association (GRPA) Dharamkumar Seeraj has said.

Opposition MP Dharankumar Seeraj

Seeraj, who has a wealth of experience as an agriculturalist and manager, told this publication on Monday that the efforts of Government might not be well thought out, as it does not take into account the possibility of having value for money, when it comes to expanding agriculture in the interior region.

The MP said, in any economy, especially in an agriculture economy, there are issues of resource scarcity and resource availability. And given that Guyana is faced with a situation of resource constraints, then Government needs to prioritize. In prioritizing, Government should also look at what can be exported.

But in doing so, the situation on the ground has to be carefully examined and if they are looking to produce crops, the aim should be to look at what is needed to be competitive. In this case, Seeraj pointed out that good soil type, good crop handling practices, good packaging, are all imperatives. However, efficiency, cost and transportation are also important factors that should be considered.

While Guyana is blessed with large masses of land, Seeraj noted that only a small portion of that area is fertile. The majority of Guyana’s land is made up of hill, sand and savannah area. “So, we can’t go and plant there. Of course, if you have unrestricted amount of money, you can do anything, anywhere” he said. In cases where there is large capital, planting can be done even in places where there isn’t any soil.

Seeraj therefore concluded that while Government has been talking about extending the frontier and going further South to expand agriculture that will come with a tremendous cost. “What he (Minister) has to do is to concentrate on the areas where the soil is fertile. Fix whatever little problem there is, give incentive to the farmers so that they can increase production, and bring your cost down. Not to go on a wild goose chase and try to plant something in soils that are not fertile.”

Seeraj said because the population in the hinterland is relatively small when compared to the coast and whatever agriculture activity the residents there are engaged in they will have to target an export market. “If you travel on the East Coast right now going up to Berbice, you have almost every village, you’ll see people selling fruits, and they’re selling vegetables. There are a lot of sellers. You don’t have buyers.”

Agriculture Minister Noel Holder

Some important questions that need to be answered, Seeraj said, include: “Who you’re targeting to buy? Is it the local people? Or is it for export? If it’s the local people, you have a few hundred people living in those villages. The Rupununi probably is the most highly populated interior region. It is, by far, the largest geographical, speaking. And, it barely got about 7,000 people.”

According to Seeraj it is sometimes cheaper to truck the produce into the interior from the coast than to actually grow crops in the hinterland. Speaking about his experience of leading the Moca Moca Project for upland rice cultivation, where Government made huge investments in, he said it turned out to be cheaper to take rice into the hinterland than to actually grow it in there.

The Opposition MP argued therefore that it would be a waste of investment to enhance agriculture there and agro processing at the cost of neglecting the coastal areas, where it is more competitive, where the soil type is much more fertile, where it is closer to the consuming public and where it is closer to a port of export which allows Guyana to target the Caribbean, for instance and then further afield.

During the launch of Agriculture Month which was observed under the theme, “Food Security and Hinterland Development: Our National Priority”, Prime Minister, Moses Nagamootoo encouraged the Ministry to develop a new means of agriculture, as opposed to the traditional way in the hinterland regions.  He said this will encourage cultivation and assist in meeting the demands of the foreign market.

Minister of Agriculture Noel Holder had said the theme reflects the commitment of Government’s vision of hinterland development and to encourage a whole food-system approach to food security.

According to Holder, as part of boosting agriculture locally, the administration has prioritised the implementation of policies for the development of the Rupununi and Intermediate Savannahs. This, he explained, will highlight the hinterland as the next frontier for the nation’s agricultural development.

“Hinterland development in 2017-2018 and beyond will focus on improved infrastructure, the development of agricultural demonstration stations and research to enhance hinterland agriculture and help provide essential knowledge and evidence to farmers, food producers, retailers and consumers,” Holder had said.

With efforts to enhance the rate of integration between the coast and the interior and to increase access to the hinterland resources, the Minister said his office has been working to have Agricultural Demonstration Stations in each of the main Eco-zones of Guyana.

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