The ob­vi­ous next step is not be­ing taken

Stabroek News - - REGIONAL NEWS -

Food is big busi­ness all around the world. The very ob­vi­ous rea­son be­ing that in or­der to live, peo­ple have to eat. The things peo­ple eat ‒ meat, eggs, grains, fruits and veg­eta­bles ‒ are the end re­sult of agri­cul­ture and busi­ness, nowa­days melded into the buzz word: agribusi­ness. Much of what is con­sumed around the world is dic­tated by those who have man­aged that meld­ing well. The brands beam out from market shelves all over and are known in­ter­na­tion­ally: Del Monte, Dole, Green Gi­ant, Libby’s, Os­car Meyer, Grace and so on.

Of course, these are the companies that have taken pro­duce and pre­served or pro­cessed it, and have em­ployed ad­ver­tis­ing to en­sure market dom­i­na­tion. This has worked so well that these brands have pen­e­trated and dom­i­nate even in places where the same pro­duce they have pre­served, pro­cessed, pack­aged and canned is avail­able year round, for in­stance in Africa and the Caribbean, in­clud­ing Guyana. Much has been said over the years about this, par­tic­u­larly with re­gard to coun­tries re­duc­ing their food im­port bills. In the Caribbean, that ex­pen­di­ture amounts to bil­lions of dol­lars and is money that can be used in other ways to bol­ster fail­ing economies. How­ever, not more than baby steps have been taken in this di­rec­tion. In Guyana, for in­stance, ev­ery Oc­to­ber when Agri­cul­ture Month is ob­served, there is much fo­cus on buy lo­cal, which is not re­ally sus­tained dur­ing the rest of the year.

In Africa, a re­cent re­port by the African Cen­tre for Eco­nomic Trans­for­ma­tion (ACET) is urg­ing gov­ern­ments to push for a move away from sub­sis­tence farm­ing to look­ing at the value chain, which would in­volve, “land ten­ure, farm­ing tech­nol­ogy, mar­kets, and pric­ing.” The ACET also sug­gests that gov­ern­ments would do well to press for more youth in­volve­ment in agri­cul­ture and one way of do­ing so would be to en­sure that the re­wards are at­trac­tive.

Many coun­tries in Africa have thou­sands of acres of non-forested, un­used land, the cli­mate that al­lows for lengthy grow­ing sea­sons, young labour forces and ex­pand­ing pop­u­la­tions. What they do not have is the where­withal to take the ob­vi­ous next step to har­ness these re­sources and turn them into food pro­duc­tion to en­sure food se­cu­rity. The young peo­ple, in­creas­ingly, are choos­ing ur­ban life or mi­gra­tion as they see no fu­ture in farm­ing. The re­port sug­gests that gov­ern­ment in­vest­ment in agri­cul­ture could be the key to turn­ing this around.

The State of Food and Agri­cul­ture 2017, a re­port is­sued by the Food and Agri­cul­ture Or­gan­i­sa­tion of the United Na­tions (FAO) early this week makes the same point. It notes that agri­cul­ture, as cur­rently prac­tised in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries, does not have the scope needed to achieve the qual­ity of devel­op­ment that will al­low for real trans­for­ma­tion. And this is ex­pected to worsen as the world’s pop­u­la­tion in­creases over

I just looked (Wednesday af­ter­noon) at a ses­sion of the IDB/Pri­vate Sec­tor Com­mis­sion busi­ness devel­op­ment sum­mit in Guyana via live stream. A panel which in­cluded Vice Pres­i­dent Carl Greenidge and for­mer PM Hinds was quite in­ter­est­ing.

VP Greenidge’s re­sponses to ques­tions were par­tic­u­larly well in­formed and demon­strated his fa­cil­ity with a num­ber of is­sues/sec­tors in­clud­ing market ac­cess, brand­ing, labour avail­abil­ity, di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion of key sec­tors to in­clude value added, air trans­port and more. But what struck me as be­ing very pos­i­tive be­yond his knowl­edge and fa­cil­ity with the is­sues, was his tone. A very en­cour­ag­ing, busi­ness friendly and hon­est anal­y­sis.

Now, I think it is time for a Min­istry of Eco­nomic Plan­ning which would in­clude re­spon­si­bil­ity for trade and in­dus­try. This min­istry can be named the Min­istry of For­eign Re­la­tions, Eco­nomic Plan­ning and Busi­ness Devel­op­ment. This min­istry should go to Vice Pres­i­dent Greenidge and dis­solve the cur­rent Min­istry of Busi­ness. This would be a su­per min­istry of sorts, but Jaipaul Sharma or Min­is­ter Fer­gu­son could be re­as­signed as a Min­is­ter in this new min­istry to as­sist Greenidge.

Min­is­ter Gaskin could be as­signed the Tourism and Civil Avi­a­tion port­fo­lio.

This kind of re­or­ga­ni­za­tion is nec­es­sary if mean­ing­ful progress is to be

the next few years.

The FAO re­port is an­other call to ac­tion for gov­ern­ments to pro­vide pol­icy sup­port and in­vest­ment, “to di­ver­sify food sys­tems and gen­er­ate new eco­nomic op­por­tu­ni­ties in off-farm, agri­cul­ture-re­lated ac­tiv­i­ties. This in­cludes en­ter­prises that process or re­fine, pack­age or trans­port, and store, market or sell food, as well as busi­nesses that sup­ply pro­duc­tion in­puts such as seeds, tools and equip­ment, and fer­til­iz­ers or pro­vide ir­ri­ga­tion, tilling or other ser­vices.”

If any of this sounds fa­mil­iar, it is be­cause a sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tion ex­ists in this part of the world. Guyana is a prime of ex­am­ple of a coun­try where re­sources and vi­sion do not con­nect the way they should and not just in the agri­cul­ture sec­tor. How­ever, this would be the ideal in­dus­try within which to be­gin to re­ally make that con­nec­tion. Oil seems to be the shiny new ob­ject on the hori­zon, but food pro­duc­tion is the real sil­ver lin­ing. How­ever, as noted above, the dots have to be con­nected. There has to be an end to farm­ing as an al­ter­na­tive means of earn­ing a liv­ing to agribusi­ness as a ca­reer choice and be­cause of the poverty that ex­ists where this needs to take place, it falls to gov­ern­ments to push this ini­tia­tive.

A re­cent case in point is the of­fi­cial com­mis­sion­ing of a turmeric fac­tory in Re­gion One (Barima/Waini) early this week. Ac­cord­ing to a re­port pub­lished in this news­pa­per, the Min­istry of the Pres­i­dency noted that turmeric has been grow­ing in the area for a num­ber of years, but that Guyana has been im­port­ing turmeric, cur­rently to the tune of 166 tonnes a made on mov­ing Guyana’s econ­omy for­ward with gov­ern­ment lead­er­ship that would in­spire the pri­vate sec­tor to move be­yond re­tail trade and have it re-en­gage in man­u­fac­tur­ing, agripro­cess­ing and other ar­eas of pro­duc­tive ac­tiv­ity based on market trends.

I am of the view that given Vice Pres­i­dent Greenidge’s in­ter­na­tional ex­pe­ri­ence and ex­po­sure, and hope­fully his knowl­edge of the need for high lev­els of pro­fes­sion­al­ism and per­for­mance, that his be­ing given the re­spon­si­bil­i­ties to which I re­fer above will go a long way to­wards en­gen­der­ing a level of in­no­va­tion and cre­ativ­ity which our econ­omy needs at this time. Yours faith­fully, Wesley Kir­ton

year. It de­scribed the fac­tory at Hosororo as “an am­bi­tious move to­wards agro-pro­cess­ing,” and prof­fers that “it will be able to sat­isfy lo­cal de­mand and also pro­duce enough prod­uct for ex­port.”

The Min­istry of the Pres­i­dency re­lease, some­how wants to make the nexus that this new fac­tory will re­duce or elim­i­nate the lo­cal quan­tum of im­ports as well as ex­port turmeric. This would be the ideal sit­u­a­tion, but it’s a false premise and one that farmers in Guyana are bit­terly aware of. Be­sides, India, the largest turmeric pro­ducer in the world al­ready owns al­most 100% of the in­ter­na­tional market, in­clud­ing Guyana’s. What has been done or will be done to per­suade con­sumers who are used to turmeric from India that the lo­cal prod­uct is just as good? Will it be cheaper than the im­ported spice? If these are ques­tions that the National Agri­cul­tural Re­search and Ex­ten­sion In­sti­tute has al­ready ex­plored and an­swered then this fac­tory can in­deed be the trans­for­ma­tive pro­ject touted. If not, then in a few years it will be just an­other pro­ject where the po­ten­tial was not ad­e­quately ex­ploited.

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