Guyana: The Breadbasket of the Caribbean

Guyana: The Breadbasket of the Caribbean

With its rich, fertile soil and temperate climate, Guyana enjoys a highly productive agricultural sector. In this article, we look at the history of agriculture in Guyana and the major contribution that farming makes to Guyana’s economy today.

Guyana’s indigenous peoples have cultivated crops for millennia.

The Warrau people were thought to have developed agricultural chiefdoms across the Caribbean and South America, including the land we now recognize as Guyana.

Experts believe the Warrau, Arawak, and Carib tribes were Guyana’s first settlers, arriving around 1000 BC. Early indigenous people were predominantly hunter-gatherers and fishers, though they practiced “shifting agriculture,” with farmers rotating crops in succession to improve soil composition and quality.

Agriculture was once Guyana’s chief economic activity.

Nevertheless, farming was restricted to fertile coastal regions, which represent just a small portion of Guyana’s total land area.

Much of this fertile land lay around a meter below high-tide level, meaning that cultivated land needed to be protected from the sea by a series of dams and dikes. This rendered agricultural expansion difficult and expensive.

Guyana’s sugar industry is more than 300 years old.

Sugar is still one of Guyana’s primary agricultural products. Cultivation of sugar cane in Guyana dates to the 1600s and the arrival of the Dutch West India Company. The company sent European settlers to establish plantations on the banks of the Pomeroon River. The first consignment of Guyanese sugar left on a ship bound for the Netherlands in 1661.

With Guyana’s indigenous peoples forced to the country’s remote, rugged interior, the Dutch settlers needed a workforce. Plantation owners began transporting enslaved West Africans to Guyana to work the sugar cane fields.

Over the years, European settlers brought thousands of enslaved Africans to Guyana to work on the plantations. By 1830, Guyana’s sugar industry relied on around 100,000 enslaved people of African descent.

Following the abolition of slavery under British rule in 1838, Guyana’s sugar industry was pushed to the brink of collapse. Most freed Africans turned to subsistence farming, with just 20% of Afro-Guyanese staying to work on the plantations.

Faced with the imminent collapse of the sugar industry, plantation owners again looked abroad for a solution to labor shortages. Indentured servants were contracted, first from China and Portugal, and later from India. Over time, more immigrant workers would come from India than any other country. 

Between 1838 and 1917, 240,000 East Indians arrived in Guyana. When indentureship was abolished in 1917, most East Indian migrants stayed, forever changing the ethnic makeup of the country. By the time Guyana gained independence from Britain in 1966, approximately half of the country’s population was descended from Indian migrants.

The Guyana Sugar Corporation was established in 1976.

The Guyanese government established this organization as part of the nationalization of the country’s sugar industry. For the first time in history, the Guyanese people oversaw sugar production on their own lands.

Today, the country’s sugar industry employs more than 17,000 workers. Rice is another main crop. While sugar is cultivated primarily for export, most Guyanese rice is consumed domestically. The nation’s sugar industry generates around 15% of Guyana’s total annual GDP.

rice field

Other important crops include bananas, citrus fruits, coffee, cocoa, and wheat.

Coconuts, peppers, and pumpkins are also commonly cultivated throughout the country.

In terms of Guyana’s livestock industry, the country is home to numerous cattle ranches, including pork, beef, and poultry farms. It also produces dairy and fish products, notably shrimp.

Aquaculture has vast potential in Guyana.

Fisheries along the Corentyne Coast have practiced forms of fishery enhancement for over a century.

Over the years, several attempts have been made to develop brackish and freshwater aquaculture industries. Local consumer demand for freshwater fish is high, with per capita fish consumption in the country at around 58.7 kg annually.

Recent difficulties with traditional crops, combined with global declines in marine stocks, have sparked a renewal of interest in aquaculture. Today, fish species cultivated domestically include Mozambique tilapia, Nile tilapia, Jamaican red tilapia, giant river prawn, armored catfish, and salmon shrimp.

Guyana’s oldest bank, GBTI, offers a variety of agricultural loans.

As Guyana’s leading banker, GBTI supports both personal and corporate customers, offering a variety of full-fledged solutions, from large commercial trading facilitation services to small business investment support.

GBTI’s aim is to help its customers transform their goals into reality through a range of customized financial services, helping individuals, families, and businesses in Guyana see greater financial success, which empowers and transforms communities throughout the country.

As part of its business loans program, GBTI offers a comprehensive range of agricultural loans to help customers upgrade equipment and machinery, increase cultivation, and expand the reach of their business. GBTI offers specialized financing packages tailormade for agricultural businesses in the following sectors:

  • Cash Crops
  • Poultry Farming
  • Cane Farming
  • Agri Processing
  • Livestock
  • Aquaculture

Benefits of GBTI agricultural loans include quick approval, preferential interest rates, experienced credit officers, and production cycle repayment terms.