President David Granger: Thank you, Sherry-Ann. Please be seated. If any of you ever need a job ask Sherry-Ann Balkaran to write you a CV or application. Thank you very much. Odessa Paul, nice to see you again; last time I was at PK I think you were Headmistress, you’re still Headmistress? It’s good to be back in PK. Honourable Sydney Allicock, Vice President and Minister of Indigenous People’s Affairs; Ministers of the Government; Dominic Gaskin, Valerie Garrido-Lowe, Jaipaul Sharma; Toshao of Paramakatoi, Mr. Gideon John, thanks for allowing me into your village without any incident. It’s always good to thank the Toshao for being here because he might expel you.
Members of the National Assembly; His Excellency Pierre Giroux, High Commissioner of Canada; Regional Chairman of the Potaro-Siparuni Region, Bonaventure Fredricks; Councillors of the RDC; Dr. Oudho Homenauth NAREI; Dr. Suresh Narine from IAST (He has a keen memory. I’m glad he was here to see the sunrise.). Visiting Toshaos from Kato and Tusinine; representative of the regional business community, Mr. Roger Hinds, across here from Mahdia; members of the Patamona nation; residents from other villages in the Potaro-Siparuni Region; members of the media; ladies and gentlemen.
As I said, it’s good to be back in PK. It’s a pity I can’t overnight but there is no better place in Guyana to wake up at three o’clock in the morning because I don’t think you can sleep beyond three o’clock in the morning if you want to stay warm in PK. But this is a great region, three times the size of Trinidad and Tobago; come on give me a clap.
This region is three times the size of Trinidad and Tobago and, as Dr. Narine will tell you, I think it’s the most breath-taking, the most beautiful region in the entire country. PK is at the centre of the Potaro-Siparuni and Potaro-Siparuni is at the centre of Guyana, the geographical centre of Guyana. It’s a region of waterfalls; of mountains; of rivers; of rainforest and most of all – of the beautiful Patamona people, now of course joined by tomato.
When you come to PK, when you come to Potaro-Siparuni, you’ve got to take away something; you’ve got to take away some tomatoes. Today I’d like to speak about food security more than anything else. I know about this region because over forty years ago there was a man called Alec Mittelholzer. Anyone know who was Alec Mittelholzer? He came to this region and he produced the largest tomatoes and the largest potatoes I’ve ever seen in my life and I’ve always wondered why we couldn’t maintain that Mittelholzer initiative because I knew that this region had the capacity, but I also know because of the job I do why we cannot produce more or export more to the market.
When we speak about food security, we speak most of all about making food available to everyone in sufficient quantities. We talk about making food available to everyone with a certain quality that you can live an active life. We talk about making food available in affordable quantities, so that everybody, every child in Guyana could have access to food, could have enough food and can have cheap food; and that is my concern about this great region, the Potaro-Siparuni Region, that it could very well be the food bowl of this country.
We want to ensure, my brothers and sisters, that we understand that Guyana is not two nations, one on the coastland, one on the hinterland. We want to bring those two parts together so that the quality of life and the standard of living on the coastland is the same as the standard of living in the hinterland, or the other way around – the standard of living in the hinterland is the same as it is on the coastland. That Guyanese wherever they are, east of Essequibo or west of Essequibo, will enjoy a similar standard of living, a similar quality of life.
Today the world is in a food crisis. There is a food crisis in this world. Over the next thirty years or so the population of this world will increase by two billion, not to two billion, by two billion and I see that Potaro-Siparuni is making its contribution to the population increase.
It means that we have to produce seventy percent more food than we are producing now but we are producing food in the face of challenges. We had over the last few weeks in what we call our monsoon season, the May-June rains. We have had the impact of excessive rainfall- what the scientists like Dr Narine would call precipitation and Dr Homenauth would call precipitation.
The rain falling too much; in Brazil the creeks and the rivers are flooded and those events in neighbouring Brazil have had an impact on Guyana and that will have an impact on our food. Sometimes in some areas you see some people cut down the trees, too many trees. We need trees for housing, sure, we need trees to be cleared for our farming but sometimes the deforestation damages the environment and we find that heavy rainfall starts to wash the soil into the rivers and the rivers become turgid. If this goes on too long we will run out of farmland. We’re not in danger of doing that; Guyana is still the ‘green state’ but we have to be very careful. So we’re talking about food security in the face of challenges.
Now, in this region, this great region, 20,000 sq. km, one of our biggest problems is transportation and, as I said forty years ago, if we had good transportation we could have been exporting tomatoes and other products to the coastland. Just look at these papaws. You would strain yourself trying to get one of these to Bourda market- massive but you can’t get them to the market because of poor transportation and sometimes I myself get worried when people talk about the Pakaraima Safari. There shouldn’t be a Pakaraima Safari. We should be able to drive from Bamboo Creek to Moleson Creek in the Corentyne; we should be able to drive from east to west. And that is why I hope that when the oil comes – and oil will come, it’s there – that we have people who have the good sense to use the profits from oil to develop the infrastructure of this country. Let us use the profits from oil to continue to develop the infrastructure of this country but we’ll come to that.
These regions, although they look lush, are sometimes susceptible to plant disease and Acushi ants, so what we need my brothers and sisters is an investment in innovation to get technology and that’s why it’s good to see Dr Suresh Narine here, because he can bring innovative techniques to your ancient practices of cultivation, and this is what we’re seeing here today. Sun-dried fruit is nothing new; people have been drying fruit for thousands of years but for you in the Potaro-Siparuni Region it is innovative because it will add value to what you’ve been doing, what your grandparents have been doing for years.
What we also need is investment that rich miners from Mahdia, people from other parts of this region, will invest in food production. I have friends who’ve left the coast, coming into this region to do gold mining. Four or five years later I ask how the mining is going; he said, “Boy, food. Can’t eat gold you know, you can’t eat gold”; and he is into food and I think he’s richer than some of the miners because he deals with a different four letter word. They deal with g-o-l-d and he takes their g-o-l-d to give them f-o-o-d and that’s fair exchange. But we also need infrastructure; we need roads, we need aircraft in order to develop this country and that is what we’re working on in our government.
So we’re speaking about making sure that every Guyanese is secure in terms of his or her access to food, the availability of food, and the affordability of food. The first thing that you would have learnt is that if you are to produce more than your father or grandfather you have to get an additional injection of education. It is no good any longer to use those old techniques. You have to realise that we are in a competitive world.
When you go to Lethem and the supermarket you have to compete with Brazilian products. When you go to the stores, even in Mahdia, or elsewhere in Bartica you will see goods on the shelf and you will say I can do that. You will see plantain chips from Guatemala, you will see papaw, or dried papaw or candied papaw from Jamaica but in order to do these things you need to have the type of technical education so that your commodities don’t spoil and so that your commodities don’t poison people who are going to eat them, and that education has to be appropriate to what we’re doing in this region.
Okay, it’s good to be a historian, it’s good to be a poet but it’s also good to be a technically qualified person who could convert these products you see before us into the foodstuff you see on supermarket shelves. So these regions, particularly the hinterland regions, must be a real schoolhouse for the residents of the hinterland. They must be able to see a future in farming. It is true that some drift to the mines, maybe some become nurses, maybe some become workers in the population centres but right here in the fields, you have a good living if you are educated to make this soil, to make this earth, more productive for you and your children. Farming mustn’t be a last resort for people who can’t do better. Farming must be the first resort for people who want a bright future.
Secondly, as I said before, you need the expertise and what we’re seeing here is not somebody who just has the knack; you’re seeing here people who are willing, people who are gaining, people who are acquiring expertise and this expertise will be passed on their children, will be passed on to their community so this project doesn’t have to stop here. It’s not a ‘flash in the pan’; you can teach this in your school, Odessa Paul, you can teach this in your farms, you can teach this to other regions, to other communities. So let us move away from just a hunch and a knack and make this into a science.
You need equipment. Some of this equipment obviously will come from outside of the community. The ATVs which brought you here, the equipment which you need to control the pests, some of the equipment which you need for your dryers. So this equipment – and I would like to assure you that the government through the Ministry of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs and the other ministries which are involved in this project, what I call the ABC ministries: Agriculture, Business and Communities – will continue to support hinterland development.
The Minister of Business understands that very well. The Minister of Agriculture understands that very well and the Ministry of Communities, under whom the region comes, understands. That’s why I call them the ABC ministries, that’s where my government starts. ABC, they have to feed me so this is an important part of your education and let us not forget the other ‘E’, that is, energy; I’m glad to see the solar panels here.
I believe the Minister of Business, the next time he invites me to GuyExpo, I am sure he is not going to have a generator running in the background. So we will have more of this because the Rupununi- Region Nine, the neighbouring region, has more hours of sunlight than any other part of Guyana and we must make the sun work for us by helping to generate electricity.
This region has the promise of three hydropower projects, at Tumatumari, at Cheon and at Amaila; now all of them haven’t gone very far but we have the capability of generating hydroelectricity right here in this region, probably more than any other region. Guyana has a hundred sites from which you could generate hydropower and of course the Rupununi has the well-known Moco-Moco, or as the Minister of Indigenous Peoples’ calls it, ‘Malka-Malka’; he knows why he is laughing.
So energy to push the equipment on your farms can come from right here and a hydropower scheme doesn’t have to be a massive dam like Gauri; it could be small facilities which use the run of the river. Solar doesn’t have to be a whole farm; it could be what you have here and you would be surprised that you’d be able to run your houses, run your hospitals, your police stations, your medical centres; and I think in a little while State House will be completely free of gasoline and dieseline.
So energy is important and you can use that energy particularly here through solar and hydro to power your farms. I grew up on a place called the Corentyne far away from here, Region Six, and I always recall that the rich rice millers at that time, and you know I’m not a young person, were already generating electricity from wind power because the coast of Corentyne has a long coast.
So you have the wind here and I think I’ve seen in other parts you pump water using wind power. So you have solar power, hydropower and wind power which could make the Potaro-Siparuni Region free from gasoline and dieseline power, and most of all I think all of the children here have an exercise book now. Could you wave your exercise books please, all the children? Let’s see them, just wave them yes, and what you see on the cover there? You see some of the rarest animals in the world and they all come from Guyana.
The largest freshwater fish in the world comes from Guyana; the largest anteater in the world comes from Guyana, the largest anaconda in the world comes from Guyana, the largest bat comes from Guyana, the largest ant comes from Guyana, the largest poisonous snake comes from Guyana, and when you look at the cover of that exercise book you’ll see what a beautiful country you belong to. But that environment has not only one side, the beautiful side with these powerful animals; it also has the side of the environment and the climate change.
We are building a ‘green state’; we are converting Guyana into a ‘green state’; don’t worry the black gold. We’re making Guyana the ‘green state’ so that we can rely on sustainable development; oil don’t spoil, but eventually it runs out, but what will not run out is Mother Nature which has fed us for millennia; and in going about the business of getting involved in tomato technology you must make sure that you also protect the environment. You know the indigenous people have a saying that the trees hold up the sky; if you cut down the trees the sky will fall, so even as you’re clearing land for your tomatoes make sure you clear the land in a sustainable manner so that you don’t leave here as a desert and you still have your trees standing as far as possible.
My brothers and sisters, today we’re embarking in one of the most ambitious agricultural projects in Guyana- agro-processing; when we speak about agro-processing, we speak about transforming these raw products that you see before us, not only tomato but also pawpaws and pumpkins, everything else, into products which we can use in our homes. You are transforming products which come from farming, from fishing, into products which could be preserved because you can do all types of things with these products; you could remove the water by evaporation, by sun drying. You could preserve food by refrigeration and by preserving food you can protect it from spoilage and you can protect it from wastage.
So what you do here is ensuring that these products don’t spoil, that they will last for a very long time, sometimes for years if they are correctly packaged, bottled and stored, and this is going to overcome the transportation bug which has prevented you from developing this region. Because once you remove the water from your tomatoes it will be lighter and it will be more expensive because you added value. So instead of sending a plane load of fresh tomatoes to Georgetown, you’ll be sending half a plane load and getting twice the value because of the products that you will be embarking on; so this agro-processing does not have to stop with tomatoes; it can go to plantain- making plantain chips, banana- banana chips and of course breadfruit-breadfruit chips. We had a crook in this country – you know a crook. I can call him a crook because he was a crook and I speak the truth and he introduced people in this country to making breadfruit chips and every weekend they would go around the city of Georgetown selling breadfruit chips and many of them made a good living.
A few months ago as you know I was the chairman of the Caribbean Community and all of the Heads of Government came into Guyana and I took them into my benab and I gave them fried plantain and banana, and I also gave them breadfruit chips and the Prime Minter of a certain country told me “oh boy this is great”. His country has eighteen varieties of breadfruit and they had a good time. They didn’t eat one single thing that was grown outside of Guyana; everything they ate was Guyanese.
So what you are embarking on is a revolution in agro-processing and a revolution in food and that revolution could be brought about because of the process that you have adopted by boiling, by frying, by pickling, by doing what your grandparents used to do – making guava jam, guava cheese.
Some of you go to Brazil and I’m sure you eat goiabada; any of you eat goiabada in Brazil? Does anybody eat goiabada? Wave your hand, let me see. Yes, goiabada; granny used to make goiabada; she used to call it guava cheese though. So all of these things you can produce because of what you are embarking on today. It’s not just one product, it’s not just tomato – it is a technology that you are adopting. So let’s see more drying, let’s see more canning, let’s see more salting, let’s see more smoking, let’s see more evaporation, let’s see more sun drying. Everything you produce here- every food product, every fish, every farm product could be processed and sold to the other areas- the mining areas of this great region – where the miners want food every single day.
My brothers and sisters, last year Guyana embarked on a new process of what I call regionalism. Regionalism – that is, I have a mission to ensure that every region, particularly my four favourite hinterland regions, the Barima-Waini, the Cuyuni-Mazaruni, the Potaro-Siparuni and the Rupununi Region, are governed by capital towns, not villages – capital towns, not settlements – capital towns and when I speak about capital town I speak of a place with aerodromes; I speak of a place with sport centres; I speak of a place with radio and television, with newspapers; I speak of a place with public services.
Minister of Business can tell you if you are a businessman at Lethem you have to go to Anna Regina or some other place to register your business and it is nonsensical. People at Aishalton can’t get their pensions; they have to pay five thousand dollars to go to Lethem; can you imagine that? We need to develop a system of regional administration so that every resident of every region can go to his or her capital and get everything her or she needs; whether its NIS, whether it’s salaries, whether it’s insurance, whether you got to pay a court fine; whatever it is, you must be able to do it within this region. But we have created four towns: Mabaruma, Bartica, Lethem and Mahdia will soon be towns, hopefully before Santa Claus comes.
So these capital towns will help to boost development; you want a birth certificate; you want an ID card; you want a passport – sooner rather than later you must be able to get that service from the government in your own region. People should be able to leave their regions and go overseas without having to pass through those two old favourites- Eugene Correia and Cheddi Jagan. Because your own aerodromes will be ports of entry so people can enter and leave.
So we have great hopes in this move towards regionalism and what I see happening here in Region Eight with this food. Maybe you may say this food has nothing to do with the region, but for me, it does have because this helps to make you ‘food secure’; it helps to make you independent; it helps to remove your dependency on Georgetown and the coastland.
I have asked my Minister of Business; I have asked my Minister of Communities; I have asked my Minister of Agriculture; I have asked my Minister of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs to promote RACE- many of you think race is a bad word but race means- the Regional Agricultural and Commercial Exhibitions- RACE.
I have been to Region Five; I have been to Region Six; I have been to Region Three; I have been to Region Ten and each region has put on a powerful regional agricultural and commercial exhibition. It is amazing to see what people who have the incentive and the interest could do if they have the encouragement from the government as a partner. The government doesn’t have to take control, but you give the people an opportunity and you give them the means; you give them the motivation and you’ll see their capability to produce, particularly food stuff to feed themselves, and I would like to see that RACE in Mahdia, my next town.
No matter how small you start. I have Roger here; where are you, Roger. Yes, let’s have your first regional agricultural and commercial exhibition in Mahdia – in Region Eight. Let people come and see the good stuff that can come out of this region.
Bryan Alicock in Region Nine, let’s have you RACE and every single region must do what we’re seeing here today in Region Eight – producing food. I’m not satisfied with Pakaraima flavour alone, I want to see Cuyuni cuisine. I was at Pomeroon a few weeks ago at Easter time and I got some coconut water to drink and unfortunately when I looked at the bottle I said, “This is Trinidadian”. They said, “no, no, no, Trinidadian print their label- this is Pomeroon coconut water”; and if any of you ever drank coconut water out of a bottle from any other country and then you drank coconut water from Pomeroon you could know the difference with your eyes closed.
I’m a national leader; I can’t tell you where the other water comes from but Pomeroon coconut water is the best in the world. All I’m saying is that this is not a flash in the pan – this is the start of a revolution of producing, of bottling, of packaging, of exporting, of marketing our farming and fishing products by adding value.
We are embarking on a long lasting economic trajectory for the people of this region. You know there is a saying that I don’t want to make water jokes that some of you might be susceptible to flooding but when the tide rises all the boats rise; a rising tide lifts all the boats. So when we have a rising tide of agricultural production everybody will benefit; the people with transportation would benefit, the airlines would benefit, the school children would benefit, the packaging people who produce the packaging material would benefit and most of all my Minister of Finance would benefit from the taxes. But only the Minister of Finance get a clap for the value added?
But seriously the rising tide will lift all the boats. What is taking place here will make Guyana a better place and I’d like to congratulate the ministries which have been involved. I would like to congratulate the individuals who have been involved and I would like to pray God’s blessing on this great region, the- Potaro-Siparuni.