The 2018 Agriculture budgetary allocation saw a decrease of $1.351 billion over the 2017 allocation. This allocation was approved by the Committee of Supply without any debate hence the lack of reason for this decrease.
Other things being equal, it would have been assumed that the monies saved from the Guysuco subsidy would have been used to strengthen the other agriculture sub-sectors. This would have been more urgent given the dire poverty being experienced by some sugar dependent communities such as Wales, Rose Hall and Skeldon. However, this does not seem to be the case.
It will be insightful and revealing to quickly assess the allocations in the Agriculture Capital Budget and the source of funds.
The Agriculture Capital Budget is $4.6 billion funded by foreign grants and loans to the tune of $2.587 billion and funding by the Central Government accounting for $2.014 billion.
The foreign grants and loans came from the CDB, IDB, IFAD, IDA, CDF and the Governments of India and Japan. These loans and grants were given for specific projects in specific areas aimed at alleviating the drainage and irrigation problems, rehabilitating access dams as well as supplying technical assistance, construction and rehabilitation of agriculture centres, and funding pilot projects in meat processing and hinterland environmentally sustainable agriculture development projects in Regions 1 & 9.
It is worthwhile to note that the Hinterland Project will provide investment plans, investment funds, SOFA studies and institutional strengthening which is highly laudable. Since this will definitely increase the production and productivity in Regions 1 & 9. A similar initiative by Central Government in those depressed sugar communities would have breathed some life in them. But I guess the needs of these communities are not a priority.
The Central Government contribution of $2.014 billion went mostly towards drainage and irrigation while some went towards improving rice variety and seed production, refurbishing the Guyana School of Agriculture, NAREI and the New GMC, while some will be spent on improving our Hydromet services.
Undoubtedly, drainage and irrigation is vitally important and should be given due emphasis and so are the research and development programs. These will definitely improve the production and productivity levels to a certain extent. But it must be pointed out here that eventually the laws of diminishing returns will take effect and no matter how many inputs we continue to administer on the fixed amount of land, the marginal output will decrease. So what happens then?
While the Agriculture Sector Budget is addressing the replacement of pumps, sluices, access dams and the purchase of other machinery and equipment there is a definite need to address the amount of arable lands available for the expansion of our agriculture sub-sectors. This is a sore area for our farmers, especially our rice farmers who are forced to rent lands at exploitative rates thereby adding as much as 20% to their cost of production.
Moreover, there is currently a growing market for our rice and paddy but the Ministry of Agriculture lacks the vision to take full advantage of that. Region 6 has vast acreage of land bordering on more than 200,000 acres standing idle while farmers are being held at ransom by some avaricious land owners.
When will Governments learn that they need to do like the Apaches and put their ears to the ground? What is wrong with our policy makers? Are they satisfied with ‘cutting and pasting’ or just adjusting figures? I have heard about budget consultations but I am yet to determine if these are the right stakeholders who have been consulted! The supply of land for agricultural purposes needs to be increased and all the red tapes and bureaucracies removed!
A good friend brought to my notice the fact that when we hear about increased production it is normally pegged against the decrease from last year’s figure resulting in the current year looking bigger and better. This type of ‘yo-yo’ effect is deceiving since the land under cultivation remains fixed.
What has happened is that either more or less of the same land is cultivated at any given time. Can anyone recall how long it was that new lands were brought under cultivation in Region 6? Definitely ages ago! Yet the Ministry of Agriculture wants increased production. It’s like Pharaoh commanding the Israelites to make bricks without straws! It is simple: more land leads to more cultivation and hence more production! Do we need the usual expensive international consultants to make this revelation?
In conclusion, the Agriculture Capital Budget lacks the vision needed to transform the Agriculture Sector especially in agriculture based regional economies such as Region 6. There is a drastic need for more lands to become accessible to farmers.
Regional Councillor Region 6