$22.6 B would realise diversified, resilient, competitive agriculture sector – Minister Mustapha

Minister of Agriculture, Hon. Zulfikar Mustapha says the 2021 budgetary allocation of $22.6 billion would transform the sector into becoming more diversified, resilient, and competitive.

The Budget, he said, provides the catalyst to revitalise the sector and to allow Guyana to become the “’the breadbasket of the Caribbean’ and the agriculture powerhouse of the hemisphere.

Minister of Agriculture, Hon. Zulfikar Mustapha during the Budget debate today

The Minister was at the time defending his sector’s allocation, and the Government’s $383.1 billion Budget at the 12th sitting of the National Assembly, at the Arthur Chung Conference Centre (ACCC).

“Mr. Speaker, we as a Government recognised the potential of the agriculture sector. We are not like them, putting all our eggs in one basket. We are once again seeing the contribution to our GDP by this important sector. Agriculture is here to stay and we will continue to invest in the sector,” he said.

Minister Mustapha said the Government would restructure the sector to one that encourages investment, where agricultural producers operate profitable businesses, one that is market-driven, with a clear focus on the transformation of raw materials into healthy, processed products.

Additionally, the Government is forging ahead to realise a sector that consistently contributes to national food security and nutrition, enhances rural communities, through employment and livelihood generation and builds resilience to vulnerabilities, shocks, and stress, even as it focuses on adapting to climate change.

Minister Mustapha said when the PPP/C Government left office in 2015, the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) was on the path to recovery with a production rating of 231,017 tonnes of sugar.  

Production went downhill under the APNU/AFC Coalition, starting from 2016, when a recorded 183,000 tonnes of sugar were produced. In 2017 and 2018, 137,000 and 104,000 tonnes of sugar were produced respectively. In 2019, 92,000 tonnes of sugar were produced and the lowest production ever recorded was 88,000 tonnes in 2020.

Nevertheless, Minister Mustapha said, the PPP/C administration invested heavily in the sector since taking office in August 2020 and is making remarkable progress in reviving and expanding the sugar industry.

He refuted a statement made by Member of Parliament, Hon. Khemraj Ramjattan that the Coalition had been acting to “right size” the industry, based on the findings of a Commission of Inquiry.

Quoting from the same Report, Minister Mustapha said it found that sugar remained a vital and important part of the Guyana economy.

The sugar industry must be given the opportunity not to just survive, but revitalise and become vibrant, efficient and profitable business where employees have a sense of security and optimal use can be made of resources.

GuySuCo needs a significant injection of funds combined with competent management team and leaders to go forward…. Every Government has an obligation and commitment to all the people of the country,” he read.

The PPP/C Government in 2020 had made available some $7 billion to GuySuCo last year, and it has earmarked $2 billion for the Corporation in this year’s budget.

The Government also plans to make significant investments in the rice industry and to increase production and expand the sector.

“We assessed the rice industry and found that our farmers were enduring many challenges; we have brought solutions,” the Agriculture Minister said.

Minister Mustapha noted that while the Opposition bragged of investments in the sector during its tenure, the PPP/C Government had to seek emergency funds to bail out several farmers who were suffering losses due to the dire state of the Mahaica/Mahaicony/Abary-Agriculture Development Authority. Over $90 million had to be spent on major infrastructural works in the Scheme.