President David Granger: Special invitees, members of the media. Once again, I am happy to be here in the town of Linden in this great region. I brought with me a little coin which I will leave with you Lindeners. It was produced forty-seven years ago and it’s the Cuffy dollar and it’s got on it three words among others, “Food for All.” It means that the Government of Guyana forty-seven years ago was thinking about food for all and I will leave this coin with your mayor.
Ladies and gentlemen, the right to food is a basic human right. This is what I believe; this is what our Government believes. Every Guyanese has a right to food and we recognised that from the start when we became a Republic forty-seven years ago and that is why I brought along that coin, forty-seven years old, not quite as old as me, but it showed that we were thinking about food security from the time we became a Republic, food for all.
So today, forty-seven years after we became a Republic, I am here talking about food for all, on this important World Food Day commemoration. As you know, you’re heard already that it is one of the Sustainable Development Goals that we should all aim at zero hunger, a very ambitious goal.
The Minister of Agriculture has already told you that Guyana is ‘food secure’ but not every individual in Guyana has nutritious meals; not every individual in Guyana has enough to eat every single day. So we have to continue working over the next 12 years or so to 2030, so that we have zero hunger. Nobody in this country must go to bed hungry. When we talk about zero hunger, we want to make sure that mothers are well nourished.
When we talk about zero hunger we’re talking about healthy babies, when we talk about healthy babies they grow up to be healthy adults, healthy adults will be less prone to sickness and they’ll be more prone to hard work. A healthy Region Ten would mean that we are aiming at a healthy Guyana.
This region is a good place for World Food Day celebration. I am glad the Ministry of Agriculture decided to come here. It started out a little hot but it has cooled down now – that’s how Linden is, starts out hot, but Linden is real cool, real cool but let me say this, that Region Ten is bigger than Jamaica, seventeen thousand square kilometres, and this region alone occupies about 12% of Guyana’s sea space.
As I said before, when I come to this region, it’s the only region that straddles the three major rivers in Guyana: Essequibo, Demerara, Berbice, the only region that straddles all three and as the minister has pointed out it, touches about six administrative regions. So, if you want to get anywhere come to Linden; but Linden has extensive grasslands, the East Berbice savannahs; it has swamps, wetlands where some of our rare flora and fauna thrive and it has rainforests.
Sometimes I go up the Berbice River; I don’t see any mining at Kalkuni and Kwakwani. What I see is logging. So, Linden is important because of these various types of landforms but most important, and why we are here today, is because Region Ten is essential to the agricultural development of this country. Not only agricultural development but diversification and also what I call agro-industry, industrialisation. Linden and Region Ten as a whole can help to provide what is on this coin, this Cuffy dollar, food for all. I’m not talking about Busta, you know. I’m talking about serious food. I’ll come to that later.
When we talk about food security, what are we talking about? We’re talking about everybody all the time having access to enough food that is nutritious and that is satisfactory to them. Everybody all the time must have enough food that they can be satisfied with – food that will make them healthy and happy. So when we talk about food security, we mean that food must be available. Food must be available in sufficient quantities and people must have access to that food and when you get the food it must be acceptable and satisfying. So, we have a big task on our hands if we are to make not only Guyana more secure, but if we are to help our brothers and sisters in the Caribbean.
As you heard already from Mr. Reuben Robertson, the FAO which he represents here, the Food and Agricultural Organisation estimates that eight hundred and fifteen million persons in the world are chronically undernourished and that one in every nine persons does not have sufficient food to live an active life. You’ve heard more about migration but let me say this, that Guyana is not so much threatened by hunger but it’s threatened in part by undernourishment and we must examine the impact that the environment has on food production and the quality of food production.
You’ve heard reference already to Mr Harvey. Anybody know Mr Harvey? No? You know his daughter, Irma? You don’t know the whole Harvey family? Well, you go to Barbuda and they are going to tell you about the Harvey family. You’ve heard about Harvey, and Irma and Norma and Jose – all of these hurricanes descended on the Caribbean, a whole hurricane family not one, one, a whole family of hurricanes and these hurricanes have severely disrupted agricultural production.
Guyana is blessed, we know that, thank you God; but I always insist that Guyana and the Caribbean as a whole, the English-speaking Caribbean, mustn’t think of themselves as a small country. When you add the land space of all of CARICOM countries including Belize, Suriname and Guyana, we are bigger than Sweden. We are more than four hundred and fifty thousand square kilometres.
So, the Caribbean as a whole is not a small country and when we think of the plight of our brothers and sisters in the British Virgin Islands or in Barbuda or in Dominica, we must think of Guyana as part of a whole. We mustn’t stand aside and ignore the plight of our brothers and sisters, we must think of the Caribbean in a holistic way. So, Guyana perhaps is lucky that we can produce enough meat and the mayor can show you that coin. We can produce enough cereals in the form of rice and we can produce enough vegetables but access is uneven because of other problems and we have to deal with those problems, problems of investment, problems of infrastructure and problems of agro-processing.
So even though in Guyana we could escape the extremes of weather, as the Minister of Agriculture said, from time to time we are going to get droughts and we’re going to get floods. Even here in Linden sometimes you get floods, in other parts of Region Ten you get floods and those environmental changes must not be ignored because every time there is extreme weather you might find not only the fowl cock crowing at midnight you might find more insect pests. You’re going to find soil erosion is happening at Coomacka, you’re going to find that it’s difficult to grow plants in some areas because the topsoil is washed off, washed away. So climatic change and environmental degradation will affect food production.
So, don’t believe that because right now we are food secure it will go on forever. There has to be more, there has to be greater environmental consciousness, and within the region too, the region not only of Region Ten but also within the Caribbean region. This is something that we must take very seriously. There are many policies and then again I’m glad that we are here today in Region Ten because we will be able to share these policies through the UNDP and through the FAO, and through IICA and through the Ministry of Agriculture; we’ll be able to share these policies with all of the citizens of Linden and throughout Region Ten, all the way up to Coomacka, all the way up to Kwakwani, all along the rivers to Malali, and the Kalkuni so that all the residents of this great region could get the message about food security.
As I said, let us think Caribbean; let us think about the whole region. Every year the Caribbean imports about four billion dollars’ worth of food, that’s US billion dollars’ worth of food. Much of that food could be produced in Guyana and it is for places like Region Ten to take a step forward to increase its food production to get a bite of that big food import bill and this could take place at the level of the household and family, at the level of the municipality and community, at the level of the region and at the level of the Central Government. So, we’re not talking here rocket science.
I was here early this year to what I now call the RACE- the Regional Agriculture and Commercial Exhibition, and this is something I’m promoting in all of the regions. At the end of this week on Friday the 20th I’ll be going to another town, the town of Lethem, which our Government created last year. Linden already had its opportunity. I’ll be going to Lethem town where they’re going to be having a Regional Agriculture and Commercial Exhibition (RACE), what this means my brothers and sisters, and what this meant for me when I came to Linden is that I saw housewives, I saw small producers bringing their condiments, pepper sauce, household products for sale.
This is something I saw in Anna Regina, something I saw in Bath Settlement, something I saw in Rose Hall and Port Mourant; ordinary residents and citizens are waking up to the possibility of taking advantage of food production and for this reason I just want to leave three words with you. The first is that we must have more investment in agriculture and agriculture production. We have to invest.
Listen to what the girl was saying, “Don’t invest in gold jewellery, mommy, don’t invest in Saturday night parties, invest in production; invest in children”; true, true story. Let us put our investments in the agri sector. I’ve been coming to Linden for several years and the regional chairmen, the mayors, have complained that people are coming from Parika, people are coming from Parika to sell plantain and cassava and pumpkin in Linden.
Well we have a Creolese word for that; it name ‘eye pass’. Eye pass and that is not a computer device you know; people got iPad and all these things now. Well that is not a computer device; ‘eye pass’ is arrogance that people should be coming a hundred and fifty kilometres to sell food that you could grow here. So, we have to invest, instead, well I don’t say that because nowadays people gone write me up but I am following the little girl. I want you to invest not in gold jewellery but invest in agriculture production.
I am sure you’ll see that there are many areas for cultivation. Already, this community has experience of Americans, of Canadians, of Russians, of Chinese, what wrong with y’all? Is what wrong? You can’t invest; foreigners are coming and getting rich. You could, don’t worry with the migration thing, you could invest in agriculture production and do as well and even better because every day you have to eat food. You can’t eat bauxite every day, you can’t eat timber, you can’t eat gold no matter how much gold teeth you got. You have to invest in food; that is the first thing.
The second thing – and you children you hear me good yeah – the second thing is we have to innovate. You can’t keep on doing the same thing over and over again and expect to get different results. You can’t do the same thing over and over again and expect to get different results. This Caribbean Community I speak about has something called an Agricultural Policy- the CAP, Caribbean Agricultural Policy, Community Agricultural Policy, Common Agricultural Policy, whatever you want to call it, CAP, and the CAP is at the top priority in our economic development programme, and we have to look at the technologies involved in agricultural processing, agro-processing.
We have to move agriculture to industrial scales. It is good to have one, one bottle of pepper sauce, one, one bottle of guava jelly and so but we have to start producing for the market, we have to start looking for markets in Trinidad and Barbados. Mr. Robinson is waiting for me to tell him something about breadfruit; you know St Vincent is the breadfruit island of the Caribbean, eighteen varieties of breadfruit, but what I am saying is that we have to move our agriculture production and I can tell you this.
Right now in the Pomeroon, they are producing some of the finest coconut water in the world and they’re exporting that coconut water to the thirsty countries of the Caribbean. Some of the best tasting coconut water in the world. I can give you a bottle or a tin of coconut water from country X and I can give you a bottle from Guyana and you would know the difference. True, true but we have to innovate, we have to bring in the machines, we have to train our young people, we have to plant the farms so that we could produce top quality products and I urge the Minister of Agriculture once again, to activate the agro-processing facilities in the Essequibo Islands-West Demerara region and every region must have a major agro-industrial complex. Too much food is being spoilt. You go around the markets; even a fish can’t eat the food when you throw it in the river, too much. Go to Kwakwani – people throwing the squash and the pumpkin in the river.
All of these products could be processed. Every breadfruit could make breadfruit chips, every guava could make guava jam or guava cheese or guava jelly. Every coconut could be bottled, get coconut water but we have to put these products at an industrial scale and what the Regional Agriculture and Commercial Exhibitions have been doing all around this country is to show ordinary Guyanese what they could do and to bring those products to the market, and this is one of the good things that Mayor Carwyn Holland has spoken about, that last year we created three new towns and my intention is that every region should be administered by a capital town.
The regional chairman is not chairman of Linden; he is chairman of Region Ten, which is seventeen thousand square kilometres. The chairman of Rupununi, Mr. Bryan Allicock, the other Allicock, is chairman of a region which is bigger than the Republic of Costa Rica, the Rupununi is bigger than Costa Rica. The chairman of Region Seven, the Cuyuni-Mazaruni, is chairman of a region that is bigger than The Netherlands. What I want to see is that each capital town would be able to transform itself, transform the economy so that they become economic hubs. People want to go to the Bartica fair, people want to go to the Lethem fair, people want to go to the Mabaruma fair because they’ll be able to sell their products. So agro-processing on an industrial scale is what we’re aiming at.
So these are the three things I want to leave with you Linden, what I want to leave with you Upper Demerara-Berbice. There must be more investment and encouragement on the part of the region for farming and agriculture. There must be innovation; we can’t go on doing things the same way over and over again. We have to start thinking about packaging, we have to start thinking about marketing, we have to start thinking about canning; and these are not magic. These are matters that could be done at the household level. Sometimes a simple cassava mill might just cost a few hundred thousand dollars. So let us get LEN going again, let us get agri-production going again.
So my brothers and sisters, the message of this food day is that you can do it. The message is not dream, something that is coming from other countries, its right here in Region Ten, this big region; bigger than Jamaica. I want you to aim at that goal at that objective; some of you will go to the goldfields. Some of you will go to Georgia where your uncle living.
A lot of Lindeners in Georgia, you know; if you crash a car you will knock down a Guyanese in Atlanta but what I want you to understand, that we can produce food for all, from this great region, Region Ten. I want you to aim at that and make sure this World Food Day is something that is understood at every level; at the level of the individual and of the family and of the household, at the level of the municipality, at level of the regional administration, at the level of central government and the level of the Caribbean Community.
We are part of the Caribbean. We can do better to feed our children and to feed our relatives, our brothers and sisters from the Caribbean. At the same time, we can eliminate poverty and make sure that by 2030 we aim at the objective of zero hunger in Guyana and Region Ten.
Thank you and may God bless you.