Elections are here and David Granger is making more empty, brazen promises, just as in 2015. For five years, Granger has implemented a vicious APNU+AFC attack against agriculture. It is disgraceful how much they have chastised farmers and destroyed agriculture. Granger now suddenly promises”agriculture will remain the primary focus of Guyana’s economy”. Does he truly think anyone believes him? Even farmers in PNC strongholds, such as Buxton and Linden, do not believe him.
Before Elections 2015, APNU+AFC promised agriculture will be transformed with incentives and subsidies. They never kept their promise. Instead, they took actively punished farmers since 2015. From cutting the agriculture budget to closing sugar estates, downsizing SUGAR, firing 7,000 sugar workers, losing markets for Guyana’s rice, cash crops and fish, increasing land lease and rental charges, introducing VAT on agriculture supplies, removing subsidies for agriculture machinery, fuel and supplies, Granger and APNU+AFC have done everything possible to harm agriculture.
Even as Granger promises “agriculture will remain the primary focus of Guyana’s economy”, reports reveal 700 acres of Wales Sugar Estate land have been leased to Dr. Chesney (Guyanese) and Mr. Patrick Antoine (Grenadian). But these lands were promised to sugar workers who were fired from their jobs when Granger broke his 2015 promise no sugar estate will be closed. Local private farmers were also promised those lands to expand their agriculture enterprises. Instead, in total betrayal, these lands have now been given away.
Throughout Election 2015, deeming SUGAR too big to fail, Granger promised no sugar estate will be closed. After his own $70M COI declared no sugar estate must be closed, in a pre-meditated plan, Granger promptly closed Wales in 2016, followed by Enmore, Rose Hall and Skeldon in 2017. In doing so, Granger fired 7,000 sugar workers. The closure affected thousands of rice, cash crop and livestock farmers, who depended on SUGAR for drainage, irrigation and maintenance of dams.
By 2014, thousands of acres in Region 9, near Lethem and the Brazilian border, were cultivated in Sante Fe, creating dozens of jobs for Guyanese helpers, engineers and agronomists. This large investment by a Barbadian citizen, Sir Simpson, who owns SOL and other businesses, intended to reduce imports, such as corn and soya, and to develop exportable crops. By 2014, more than 120 acres of rice was cultivated at Sante Fe which had its own rice mill and silo. The rice produced was sold locally and exported to Brazil. The farm would have grown to 20,000 acres with soya, corn, rice, livestock and other crops by 2020. The sad truth is Sante Fe is presently dormant.
Other large scale farms for livestock, corn, soya, palm oil, coconut, quinoa planned for Regions 1, 2,5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10 were shelved between 2015 and present. These investors were willing to invest in reducing Guyana’s considerable import and to add to Guyana’s export potential. One of the goals was to become a preferred source for the almost annual $US10B food import business in CARICOM. A second goal was to make Guyana CARICOM’s number 1 bio-fuel exporter. In five years, not only have little progress been made, but most of these PPP plans were shelved.
Guyana’s 2014 rice production reached 640,000 tons. Between 2010 and 2014, Guyana increased production by 100% and its export had reached 500,000 tons. The target was 700,000 tons by 2015 and 1M tons by 2020. The plan was to increase local rice utilization by adding a value-added component to the industry, creating manufacturing opportunities and to sustain a high-priced export market for the first 500,000 tons and other markets for a second 500,000 tons. The Mexico market was included in this strategy. Guyana had made inroads with Panama and Belize, to enter into Central American. Millers were introduced to Guatemalan, Colombian, Cuban, Ghanian andMiddle East importers.
Granger and APNU+AFC in 2015 promised rice farmers $9,000 per bag paddy and substantial subsidies. Since 2015, however, they delivered broken promises and betrayal. Immediately, the Venezuelan market was lost. The 2015 target of 700,000 has notbeen achieved yet, although the first crop in 2015 produced 400,000 tons. We have not grown the Panama, Jamaican and Cuban markets. We have exported more paddy to Mexico since 2017, rather than value-added rice.
By 2013, Guyana was poised to enter the European market for the “orange” sweet potato. Farmers in Parika, were trained in producing this type of sweet potato. We had already replaced imported broccoli and carrots with locally produced ones. Guyana had made rapid progress with increased production of tumeric from Region 1, where we had initiated a partial tumericprocessing plant to reduce cost of transportation to Georgetown to replace imported tumeric. NAREI was preparing farmers around the country to produce potato, onion and garlic. While NAREI and some private farmers continued, the Ministry of Agriculture became a missing partner.
Aquaculture is now essentially dead in Guyana. Outside of tilapia, tambaqui rearing at the Sataydeo Sawh Campus at Mon Repos started in 2013. No progress has been made. In fact, with continued struggle against piracy, which APNU+AFC promised would end, and the negligence of APNU+AFC that caused the loss of the American market for certain fish, the industry is stagnant. The initiative to promote a tourism component for fishing has died a slow death.
The livestock industry which was beginning to transform by 2015 has reached another stagnant period. The initiative to improve the genetics of the livestock, cattle, sheep, goats, pigs,in order to improve meat and milk production appears to have ended. Poultry has not increased its potential, even though there were talks in 2014 of entering the Eastern Caribbean market. The excitement about the duck industry has died with the negligence of the Ministry of Agriculture.
In the meanwhile, the government has punished farmers. Land rent and lease rates have increased significantly. In the MMA, Black Bush Polder and other places these rates have increased by more than 100% and sometimes as much as 300%. Leases have been repossessed. Excise and VAT tariffs on machinery which were waived before 2015 were introduced. Investments in drainage and irrigation were either reduced or filled with corruption. Dams were not maintained and taxes were levied against farmers. In Region 5 and Black Bush Polder, GRA officials tried to tax farmers for even their back yard production of cash crops.
This is Granger’s agriculture legacy. It is barefaced and brazen for him to promise, like he did in 2015, to make agriculture the focus of Guyana’s economy. His track record is dismal. HisMinister of Agriculture has been missing in action (MIA), AWOL, for five years and Granger never said a word. He has ignored the plight of farmers and agriculture every minute of his term. Even as he pledges again to make agriculture the focus of the economy, farmers in different parts of the country are suffering, but he has ignored them. Rather he insists he is”unbothered”.
Dr. Leslie Ramsammy