Is Guyana Poised to Become the Breadbasket of the Caribbean?

Is Guyana Poised to Become the Breadbasket of the Caribbean?

Caribbean countries spend a combined $4.5 billion annually on crops that could potentially be grown in the region. This food import cost has risen consistently, year after year, over the past three decades.

Discussing the issue, the Food and Agriculture Organization mooted a potential solution to rising food import bills throughout the Caribbean, pointing to Guyana’s unique agricultural possibilities. Dr. Julio Berdegue, assistant director-general of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, explained that Guyana could effectively solve import challenges throughout the entire region if the country could realize its food production potential.

Speaking with the media in April 2019, Dr. Berdegue explained that increased reliance on imported food products placed a huge burden on the region in terms of food security and safety. He suggested that Guyana could prove to be a fundamental part of the solution since few other countries within the region offered anything close to Guyana’s production potential.

Dr. Berdegue acknowledged that climate change could be a threat to food production throughout the whole of the Caribbean and Latin American region, as 50 percent of the total area is expected to see a rise in temperature of around 1.5 degrees by 2030. He said that this temperature increase may not bode well for the future of agriculture and food production. He also told the media that time is of the essence, explaining that the region needs to formulate tangible solutions to tackle climate change and increase food security. Speaking specifically about Guyana, Dr. Berdegue stressed the importance of implementing climate-smart agriculture to coexist with the country’s emerging gas and oil sector.

A history of farming in Guyana

sugar-cane

From the arrival of Amerindian tribes thousands of years ago, to colonial settlers and the construction of plantations, farming has always been big business in Guyana, although only around 5 percent of the nation’s landmass is suitable for cultivating crops.

Historically, much of the country lays up to a meter below the high-tide level, necessitating the construction of dams and dikes to protect crops from the sea. Just 2 percent of the country consists of arable land, with the remainder made up of savanna, mountains, and plateaus.

Throughout the 19th century, rice and sugar were the country’s most important agricultural products. Sugar was grown and processed throughout Guyana primarily for export, while the vast majority of national rice crops were consumed domestically.

Today, Guyana’s sugar market represents approximately 15 percent of the country’s annual GNP. Other important crops include cocoa, coffee, wheat, bananas, coconuts, pepper, citrus fruits, pumpkin, and livestock. Cattle ranches produce Guyana’s dairy products as well as beef, poultry, and pork.

Peanuts have grown to become a particularly popular crop throughout Guyana today. Peanut production dominates the economy in the region of Rupununi, with many farmers relying on the crop as their principal income source. Thanks to enhanced production practices, peanut production has grown from 1,100 to 2,500 pounds per acre over the last four years. Peanut farmers benefit from both selling their yields to domestic markets and exporting their products throughout the Caribbean.

Guyana also produces modest amounts of tobacco, vegetables, and vegetable oil. Many farmers started diversifying their crops in the late 1980s, experimenting with premium items such as asparagus and heart-of-palm.

Guyana boasts a lucrative fish industry, particularly shrimp. By the end of the 1980s, shrimp production became the country’s third highest-earning export after bauxite and sugar.

The future of Guyanese agriculture

In 2018 $17 billion in government funding was allocated to Guyana’s agricultural industry. Winston Jordan, Guyana’s finance minister, explained that previous investments in agricultural diversification had proved extremely successful, enabling farmers to experiment with non-traditional crops. He said that the Guyanese government needed to upscale its diversification efforts to enable the country to become more economically resilient. He pointed out that priority areas included productivity, food security and safety, infrastructure improvements, and increased institutional capacity.

As Dr. Julio Berdegue explained, innovation is key to the expansion of Guyana’s agricultural sector. He suggested that by embracing cutting-edge technologies and techniques while fostering environmentally friendly agricultural practices, the country could sustainably increase its agricultural productivity.

While expanding Guyana’s agricultural industry would require significant investment, Dr. Berdegue explained that the nation’s lucrative gas and oil industry could provide the means for paying for these improvements. Dr. Berdegue said he believed each of these industries could coexist comfortably in a mutually reinforcing situation, further adding to Guyana’s GDP.

GBTI is proud to support Guyana’s farming industry

As the nation’s longest-running commercial bank, GBTI nurtures its relationships with customers operating in all industrial sectors, offering financial solutions tailored to their individual needs.

From poultry farming, to cash crops, to aquaculture, GBTI offers a variety of agricultural loans, helping farmers establish and expand their operations.