President David Granger: Mr. Chairman thank you very much for your introduction and your kind remarks. Vice President Sydney Allicock; (I don’t know, Ms. Ally seems to have emptied the Cabinet here); Honourable Amna Ally, Minister of Social Protection; Honourable Keith Scott; Jaipaul Sharma; Karen Cummings; Annette Ferguson; (Is that it for now?); Her Excellency Ms. Mikiko Tanaka, United Nations Resident Coordinator in Guyana; Mr. Ruben Robertson, FAO Representative; members of the National Assembly; Ms. Jennifer Wade; Richard Allen; John Adams; members of the media; ladies and gentlemen.
I start by congratulating the Ministry of Social Protection on this initiative and I would like to feel that it is going to be a model for other institutions in Guyana; particularly those which consume a lot of food. I would like to add my voice to the words of gratitude from Honourable Amna Ally to the United Nations system; the FAO and to other partners who contributed to this global initiative. I can’t think of a more important ceremony on a hot Friday afternoon- food is life; no food, no life and any initiative to produce more food is laudable.
We’re told that one in every nine persons on the planet does not have enough food to lead an active life. At this moment seven hundred and ninety-five million persons are hungry, some peoples are actually starving to death; particularly combat zones and conflict zones. Ladies and gentlemen the world’s population will decrease by two point two billion by the year 2050 and I know West-Berbice would play its part.
Ladies and gentlemen, food production worldwide will have to increase by seven percent over the next thirty-five years, but this increase will come in the face of challenges. If you look around the world today, you see conflict and although some people don’t believe it; you will see climate change.
Here in Guyana, we see the frequency of El Niño a repeated or a repetitive cycle of droughts; we see crop losses; we see consumption patterns changing- children and even some older folk reject the foods of their fore parents; all of these phenomena affect food production, so we’re trying to produce more foods in worst times. The world will always need food and it is my view and my vision and it is my mission to make sure that no Guyanese should go to bed hungry; in other words, Guyana must achieve food security.
Food security means that all people, at all times must have the physical, social and economic access to sufficient food; to safe food and to nutritious food; food which meets their daily dietary needs and foods which prepare them to live an active and healthy life. All food ain’t food you know, sometimes people consume products; they eat food which does not help to make them healthy.
I know a certain person who is suffering from diabetes, I saw him drinking rum, I said, why you drinking rum? I said why you drinking you’re diabetic? He said, “Is okay if I drink white rum; I don’t drink brown rum.” This was about four months before I went to his funeral, so it’s not a question of just consuming a lot; it’s a question of eating safe and eating smart. So when we speak about food security in Guyana we speak first of all of the availability of food.
Yes, it means that there must be sufficient quantities of food but sometimes a country could produce a huge amount of food but people are still hungry because a lot of the food is exported. So secondly, apart from availability we must look at accessibility which means that everybody in the country must have access, they mustn’t be prevented from getting food because of poverty or because of inequality or because sometimes of the distance that you have to travel.
And thirdly, you want to have a certain level of acceptability; nobody could eat raw carilla every day. You want to have food which is acceptable, which is agreeable and which is appropriate for your physical or your medical condition. You want to eat food which is safe and nutritious, so this is what we are talking about when we speak about food security; we’re speaking about the availability of food for all; accessibility of food to all and acceptability of food for everyone in the country from babies, young adults and the elderly.
We live in a beautiful country. We live in a bountiful country. We live in a blissful country; the biggest country in the Commonwealth Caribbean. We live in a country of beautiful coastland; of highlands, which some of you have never seen, of islands in the Essequibo River; the estuary Essequibo River those three islands: Leguan, Wakenaam and Hogg Island alone are the size of the B.V.I- the British Virgin Islands.
We live in a country of extensive grasslands; of wetlands from where we get our beautiful Canje Pheasant- beautiful to look at not to smell. Lake lands, the lakes of the Essequibo; a country of forests, a country of waterfalls as you have been reading about in the papers, which we will keep in a pristine condition- thank you for your applause. [Laughter.]
A country of rivers, you know, whoever wrote our national anthem fifty-one years ago wrote of the country of rivers and plains:
“Made rich by the sunshine, and lush by the rains,
Set gem-like and fair, between mountains and seas”
That is our country and that is why we feel that we have taken a correct decision in pointing Guyana towards becoming a ‘green state’. We have the climate, we have the land, we have the labour, we have the fresh water which will enable us to produce foods on a large scale. We have vast areas of arable land and our rivers- many of which run from south to north; a few run from west to east but most of them run from south to north draining our lands, to keep our country well-watered (sometimes a lil too watered) here in West Berbice but nevertheless, we have a well-watered land. We have a long coastland rich in fish, crabs, prawns. We have farms which can produce foods; any sort of food that people in the Caribbean want so we are on the brink of self-efficiency and that is why I congratulate the Ministry of Social Protection on this project because it is a project which is dedicated to self-sufficiency.
Food production is central to the ‘green state’ and in this region, a region of fifty thousand; I reckon there are about ten thousand households, most households have about five persons, although I know some men happen to have several households. Let us say on average, there are about ten thousand households.
I will like to say that every family in this country lives in a house. I would like to see every house in a yard; some people go for these condominiums. I’m not too fussy about that, I like to see a house with a yard. I like to see every yard with a garden. I like to see every garden with trees- that is my vision. I see in West-Berbice here, ten thousand families, ten thousand households ten thousand yards, ten thousand gardens and many, many trees.
That is why the first Saturday of October from 2015, I declared in writing National Tree Day, a day when people must plant trees. All the ladies, if they are entitled to could put on their shorts and go out and plant trees- only if you are entitled to, if you’re not entitled, you can plant the trees otherwise. On the first Saturday of every October go out and plant trees all over this country. You know I think Minister Allicock would tell you the indigenous people have a saying; “The trees hold the sky up, if you cut down the trees the sky will fall”. So let us plant trees and keep the sky up. Ladies and gentlemen, we are not a rich country even we start to produce oil and gas, I hope that we export most of that oil and gas and that we continue to rely on sustainable generation of energy. I would like us to eat what we grow. My own mother would turn in her grave if she saw me eating plantain chips in a package coming from some foreign country. I’m a Head of State so I can’t criticise another country, but we have to grow what we eat. We can eat what we produce.
A few months ago in February, I as Chairman of the Caribbean Community which I’m still chairman of, they gave me a semester and it’s about to expire next month but we had the Intercessional Meeting of Heads of Government and I invited them to lunch at State House. Every single thing they ate or drank was produced in Guyana. Every breadfruit, every sweet potato, every cassava, every plantain, every yam, every eddo, every fish, every cuirass and they liked it. [Applause.]
No macaroni and cheese, no potato toppings and all of that, everything that they ate, that those Heads of Caribbean Government ate was produced in Guyana and of course at the head table was the Honourable Prime Minister of the country from which Mr. Robertson comes, how many varieties of breadfruit y’all have? Seventeen? Your Prime Minister is mistaken- he said, “Eighteen”. He comes from a country with eighteen varieties of breadfruit.
So the Prime Minister had a full plate because Saint Vincent eats breadfruit and I am sure that if every yard in West Berbice produced breadfruit and we exported it to Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Saint Vincent would sink. I think Saint Vincent would sink.
I am sure and maybe Mr. Robertson could come back to Huge Chavez Centre and tell you that if every household in West Berbice, in Mahaica-Berbice Region had one breadfruit tree we can probably produce from this region alone- a million kilogrammes of breadfruit every year – add another variety, nineteen varieties. But the point I’m making is that we must not allow the initiative that the Minister of Social Protection has demonstrated today here in the Hugo Chavez Centre to be just a sideshow. This is the direction that the entire country should be travelling in, that is, producing food so that we can feed not only our children, our families but the entire region. [Applause.]
So Berbice, you keep on getting more families and opening more households and planting more trees. This is a powerful region, I was here in Bath Settlement a few weeks ago, I was picketed. Of course, if I wasn’t picketed I don’t know how I’d feel; I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night. Used tires- Used Car Tires Association, The Scrap Iron Association- everybody takes a bite you know.
So when I came to Bath Settlement I was picketed. Of course the chief picketer came in and heard what I had to say but he got the cameras there, he got the photograph. Very important if you don’t get yourself on Facebook; people feel you didn’t earn your parliamentary salary but anyhow, I love this region.
This region is over four thousand square kilometres. If you added Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada and the Grenadines, Saint Kitts and Nevis and Saint Vincent they’d fit into Mahaica-Berbice Region. I don’t say this boastfully, you know I’m not a boastful chap, I speak the truth but what I’m trying to say is that this region is blessed. This region has over three hundred and sixty-eight thousand hectares under cultivation.
This region produces 48% of the rice in Guyana. This region produces 18% of the sugar; this region produces 38% of the coconuts and 16% of the fish. All of these products are needed, are desired in the Caribbean. A few weeks ago we were in the Pomeroon where I went at Easter time. At least they didn’t picket me there. I went at Easter and I drank some of the most tasty coconut water in my life coming out of the Pomeroon and its bottled there, I saw this name on it, the name of another country but it was produced and bottled in Guyana and exported to the country whose name was on it. I can’t mention it, you understand this but the point I’m making is about is that our coconut water sells. I drank some coconut water from some other jurisdictions and you can’t tell when you start and when you stop because it’s not like ours, but the point I’m making out of West Berbice we get 38% of our coconuts.
Ladies and gentlemen, this initiative is exciting. They are great prospects not only for Hugo Chavez but also for the entire country. Again we must have Mr. Robertson back here so he can tell you that the Caribbean produces or imports over four billion US dollars’ worth of food every year, when you can get a piece of the action over here in West Berbice. I’ve told my colleague Heads that Guyana is the hinterland of the Caribbean, that Guyana is the frontier of food security, that we can produce your meats, we can produce your milk, we can produce your fruit and vegetables and your fish. So what we see here today is not the end, it’s the start of a project which I would like to see replicated in other parts of the country.
You know there are some institutions in Guyana which consume enormous amounts of food. You know how much it costs to keep a prisoner in Guyana for one year? Over a quarter million dollars to keep one prisoner… Now, when you add the prison population; when you add the amount of people in hospitals and here, when you add the people in the defence and security forces, when you add the schoolchildren; we in the government have to provide a huge amount of money to feed these soldiers and prisoners and policemen, schoolchildren, patients in hospitals – billions of dollars and I see that what you’re witnessing here today in West Berbice is the key to solving one of our major government expenditure problems and I would like to feel too that this project could be the model for other institutions to follow.
There is no reason why the Guyana Prison Service should not have a model farm like this. If you need more I can provide more prisoners to you so that they get more work at Mazaruni but Mazaruni should be sending food to other parts of the country and let us work, let us look carefully and closely at this model to see whether it can be replicated in other institutions around Guyana.
I would like to congratulate the Ministry of Social Protection… I would like to congratulate the Ministry of Social Protection on this initiative. [Applause.]
I would like to encourage not only other government agencies to follow this example of productive enterprises which could reduce the food bill but I would like to encourage private enterprise as well to get more involved in production to help Guyana to become a ‘green state’ and to ensure that Guyanese are well fed and that we are protected from the food insecurity by the huge agriculture protection of which we are capable.
Thank you and may God protect you West Berbice.