President David Granger: “Social Protection and Agriculture”. This is a great motto as we aim to break the cycle of rural poverty. Guyana on this World Food Day, the 16th of October 2015, takes this opportunity to reaffirm its commitment to ensuring greater food security is one of the means of eliminating extreme poverty and hunger within the next 15 years.
But what is food security? Food security is a condition which exists when all Guyanese everywhere have access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life.
We learned from the FAO [Food and Agricultural Organisation] that food security is built on three pillars: one is availability that is, to ensure there is sufficient amounts of food available, and consistently too; second is access – to ensure that there is sufficient resources to obtain appropriate food for nutritious diet and the third is food use that is, use that is based on knowledge of basic nutrition and care as well as adequate water and sanitation. These are the three pillars for food security and these are the three pillars we hope to strengthen in Guyana and throughout the Caribbean Region over the next 15 years.
Food security is important because it will enhance our ability to eradicate extreme poverty; but to break the cycle of poverty we must understand what are the most vulnerable sections of our population and which are the most susceptible areas in our country.
We know that the largest part of our country is our hinterland. The part of our country which encompasses three quarters of our land space – claimed by Venezuela – the Barima-Waini Region, the Cuyuni-Mazaruni Region, the Potaro-Siparuni Region, the Rupununi region and parts of the Upper Demerara-Berbice Region.
The Rupununi region alone is bigger than Costa Rica but this is an area in which the population is sparse. So, although we have some food insecurity on the coast, it is greatest in this vast hinterland. Many of our districts in the hinterland have less access to irrigation water, so food security becomes a problem; hinterland poverty becomes pervasive.
Guyana has adopted all 17 of the Sustainable Development Goals and this was confirmed when we were at the United Nations General Assembly and we attended the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit, which was held in New York on the 25th and 27th [September] this year.
Guyana joined with the international community to pledge confidently that we are going to realise the goals by 2030, all 17 goals but most particularly Sustainable [Development] Goal Number I: Ending poverty in all its forms and Sustainable [Development] Goal Number II: Ending hunger, achieving food security and improving nutrition and promoting sustainable agriculture.
So that is why we are here today. We are here because we pledged. We’re here because we promised; we promised to end hunger; to achieve food security; to stamp out poverty and to establish sustainable agriculture in our country.
Ladies and gentlemen, food security is necessary but it is not sufficient a condition to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger. Increased agriculture and productivity, according to the FAO, benefits the poor. It benefits the poor by reducing the price of food. It benefits the poor by increasing income for the poor. It benefits the poor by stimulating greater demand in agricultural areas where most of the world’s poor live.
Guyana, as you heard before from the Minister of Agriculture, has already achieved food security in six important food groups, but food security alone is not evenly spread throughout our country. Most of our food is produced on the coastland where 80% of Guyanese live but in the hinterland there is food insecurity. In the hinterland there is insecurity because our population is scattered, because it is an area of many small-scale miners and artisans. In certain rural areas, small scale fishermen are also poor.
Other vulnerable sections of our population include marginalized groups in urban areas, some persons who are labourers, some persons who are single parents and unfortunately the elderly who might receive, even if they are registered with NIS, very small pensions, and of course there’re rural labourers and persons in the hinterland and elsewhere who must survive and, in many cases, are obliged to support their families on very limited resources.
Food security is also affected by climate change and those of you under the tent I am sure you’re feeling quite warm; you must thank the Regional Chairman for his warm welcome to Region Three. But our coastal zone is increasingly vulnerable to the negative effects of climate change such as rising sea levels and extreme weather conditions.
Droughts and floods are occurring and recurring with greater regularity and with greater severity. This cycle of drought and flood threatens our population, threatens their access to food and even threatens the stability of Guyana’s food security. Even today, as we celebrate World Food Day, we are facing an El Niño threat in some parts of the country, particularly the Rupununi. They’re experiencing a prolonged dry season and this prolonged dry season – good for cricket, but bad for farming, bad for irrigation, bad for water supply.
Our challenge therefore, is to make agriculture more resilient, especially to protect us against the effects of the cycle of drought and flood.
We also need to ensure greater food security in areas where poverty is more concentrated. For these reasons our government will focus on the development of inland and hinterland agriculture specifically within the Intermediate and Rupununi savannahs. And in this regard, I would like to hold the Minister of Agriculture to the campaign pledge which I made to the hinterland that during his tenure of office – however long or short it would be – he would establish a Regional Agriculture Institute in every hinterland agriculture region.
These Regional Agricultural Institutes are necessary to train our young people. Too many of them after passing CXC or CAPE drift across our borders into Venezuela or Brazil and some of them end up working as farm hands, some of them work as stewards and waitresses in restaurants in Boa Vista and elsewhere in Brazil.
We need to ensure that training facilities exist, so that when young people leave secondary schools, they can go into these hinterland agriculture institutes. But the hinterlands, particularly our grasslands in the Upper Demerara-Berbice that is the intermediate savannahs and in the Rupununi, will become our new agriculture frontiers. These grasslands will help us to produce greater quantities of food for local consumption and particularly for export to our sister Caribbean states.
The Caribbean food export-import bill is more than $4 billion a year. The Caribbean has the market; Guyana has the land and our people have the skill. Together we can bring these resources; our capital, our talent and our land to bear on this huge food import bill in our Region.
Our Ministry of Agriculture will be focusing on pasture development, on orchards, on beef and dairy development and infrastructure rehabilitation and development. We are on the move. Our Government, even as we open up new farm lands in the hinterland; promises not to neglect agriculture on the coastland. We promise to continue to support coastal agriculture since coastal agriculture, our rice lands and our sugar lands remain the bedrock of agriculture production.
But, ladies and gentlemen, Guyanese must never be hungry again. Our Government will seek to move increasingly into value-added food production; we will seek greater investment in agro-processing and we will take steps to stimulate cottage industries; what we call bottom house industries, thereby creating jobs, providing reliable sources of income particularly for women and young people coming out of school.
Ladies and gentlemen, the motto of this year’s World Food Day observance is “Social Protection and Agriculture”. You heard a lot about social protection but now we have to break the cycle of rural poverty. Our Government is determined to ensure greater food security and in so doing we must produce food in greater quantities. We must protect society from hunger; we must promote better nutrition and health. We must provide employment in rural and hinterland areas for our young people. We must work together. We must support our local farmers and we will achieve together; a poverty-free country.
Today, World Food Day, we encourage all Guyanese to join the celebration of this important international festival. We urge all Guyanese to be part of this new chapter in agriculture in our country. Let there be food for all!
May God bless you all!
I thank you.