Minister of Agriculture, Noel Holder …Gov’t says no fallout from COVID-19 pandemic …pushes subsistence farming to boost self-sufficiency
By Lisa Hamilton
GUYANA’s agriculture sector has not been negatively impacted in a major way from the fallout of the COVID-19 Pandemic and the sector continues to grow, Minister of Agriculture, Noel Holder said.
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He hopes that when CARICOM countries reopen their borders, the vision of a self-reliant and self-sufficient Region can gain new perspective and be realised. Since the virus made its way into the Region, countries have been forced to close their ports to non-essential travel, cutting off international business, trade and tourism to some extent. For Guyana, Minister Holder said that the country is still selling its rice to 34 countries inclusive of the Caribbean and parts of Latin America.
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“Rice is doing very well, rice has no problems; we haven’t had any market losses as such,” he told this newspaper on Thursday. “France has closed down its ports for a while, but that might be opening up.”
THINKING OUTSIDE THE BOX
In general, he said that farming in Guyana — both crops and livestock — has not been adversely affected, and things are largely moving smoothly even with the recent commencement of the May/June rainy season. “At this point in time the farming community is not hurting,” Minister Holder said. “At this point in time there is no panic agriculture-wise. We are more concerned about the consumer side rather than the famers at this point in time.”
Due to the fear of contracting COVID-19 and several emergency measures in place, fewer persons have been visiting the big markets and less often. However, the Ministry of Agriculture is pleased to notice that despite the challenges, many Guyanese have found innovative ways to sell their produce. “What we’re noticing is that with the lockdown, people have been been going to farmers, purchasing at the farm gate and bringing it into communities to sell. While the markets are not functioning as they should, people are privately doing this. Getting their little canter truck…and selling almost on a house-to-house basis and that is something we’re very pleased about,” he said.
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In some communities, one can see these trucks driving through each street with bullhorn megaphones announcing the produce and other items they have for sale. While farmers have not been significantly negatively impacted, the Ministry hopes to turn the attention to providing nutritional balance to families. Recently, the Rural Affairs Secretariat of the Ministry of Agriculture launched its COVID-19 Relief Kitchen Garden Initiative.
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The initiative is part of the Ministry’s Rural Entrepreneurial Agricultural Project (REAP) and is aimed at encouraging persons to start their own kitchen gardens, according to Minister within the Ministry of Agriculture with responsibility for Rural Affairs, Valerie Adams-Yearwood. Interested persons can uplift an application form from the security of the Ministry’s head office on Regent Street, their Neighbourhood Democratic Council (NDC) Offices or regional agricultural officers
A man watering his small-scale farm After a verification process, registered persons will be given assistance in the form of vouchers to acquire seeds, small garden tools, irrigation material and other planting material needed, to either establish, or improve an established kitchen garden, redeemable at local or administrative regional suppliers. Closing date for registration is June 6, 2020
Minister Holder said that the programme also caters to persons with no land for small-scale crop growing and to persons with backyard land but no means to begin growing their own food. The only means by which the Ministry of Agriculture has been affected thus far is the absence of a national budget which, to some extent, prohibits the commencement of some planned projects. As the country’s 2020 electoral process nears an end, there is hope for positive change
Turning his attention to the Region, Holder said that he is aware of the challenges such as the loss of tourism; this is more so affecting Guyana’s CARICOM neighbours. He said that most of them remain food secure, currently, because the demand is no longer there for excess food consumption due to tourism. “While normally the Region imports around 80 per cent of its food from outside the individual countries, what’s happening now, because of the COVID lockdown and the lockdown of the airports and sea ports, tourism is not on. There is a complete stop in tourism, so the food needs of these individual countries have tremendously reduced. In many areas they have some localize surpluses of food, food that would normally go to the restaurants and hotels,” he explained
CARICOM is actively examining re-opening international borders among Member States, as a means to lend support during the coronavirus pandemic. Holder said that much is going to change internationally as a result of the pandemic which may open up opportunities for greater self-reliance within CARICOM. This is also in keeping with the vision of CARICOM Chairâ” Prime Minister of Barbados, Mia Mottleyâ” and many others. Holder said that its realization has been long overdue
“There might be new opportunities being created when countries open up again, certainly for Guyana and agriculture. I know that the current Chair of CARICOM, Mia Mottley, is [advocating] for Caribbean self-sufficiency as far as agriculture is concerned; so I think we could get good support there and Guyana has always been pushing that way. Guyana is the lead country for agriculture in CARICOM,” he pointed out
Meanwhile, leaving words of advice to those in the agriculture sector, he said: “Try to continue increasing productivity; try to be as efficient as possible and gear yourself up for increased production and potential exports to countries in the Caribbean, certainly when the COVID situation changes.”