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Food Security Facility plan activates old offer

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Monday’s budget announcement of a proposed Food Security Facility involving T&T and Guyana has re-activated a longstanding land offer from the mainland republic though at least one T&T private sector project is already three years in progress there. Food Production Minister Devant Maharaj said yesterday he had contacted Guyana President Donald Ramotar by telephone and promised to follow up with a “letter of offer”.


It is not known if the issue was raised at yesterday’s meeting of the Guyana Cabinet and T&T Guardian could not reach Agriculture Minister Dr Leslie Ramsammy for comment. However, one such arrangement, negotiated in 2009, already exists through the Co-operative Citrus Growers Association (CCGA) which has up to 300 acres under citrus cultivation in the hinterland of the sprawling South American Caribbean Community (Caricom) state.


The deal involves up to 5,000 acres based on the success of the initial 1,000-acre project. Land management issues have been managed and financed by the CCGA. The land has been made available on a lease basis at an annual cost of US$1 an acre. Former CCGA general manager, Dr Gary Prentice, who took part in negotiations to get the project going, said the move was “very cost effective” because of labour costs, soil type and favourable weather conditions.


But he lamented the fact that Caroni Ltd lands, previously under citrus cultivation, now appeared to have been abandoned and set for other agricultural pursuits. The project takes advantage of an offer dating back to the 1992 People’s Progressive Party (PPP) success at the polls and the installation of late president Dr Cheddi Jagan.


Former president Bharrat Jagdeo, who had Caribbean Community (Caricom) responsibility for agriculture, later renewed the offer with the proviso that infrastructural improvements were undertaken by any incoming regional enterprise. Executive director of the Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute (CARDI), Dr Arlington Chesney, said the principle behind such an arrangement was “a very good one.”


He said it was important to note the landmass limitations of a majority of Caricom countries, including Trinidad and Tobago, and the opportunities mainland territories, such as Guyana, Suriname and Belize, offer. “The region has set itself a target of 25 per cent food and nutrition security by 2015,” Chesney said. “But we can’t do that as individual countries.”


A United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) study shows that, with the exception of Guyana, Belize and St Kitts and Nevis in the English-speaking Caribbean, no country has the required landmass to achieve 100 per cent food security. Chesney said he welcomed the Food Facility arrangement, especially in view of the fact that Guyana had now agreed to become “fully active” in the work of CARDI from 2013.


Howai announced Monday that “with agricultural land becoming less and less available” the country was moving to establish the facility which “commits both Governments to expanding agricultural production in Guyana through the establishment of commercial relationships for funding the establishment of several large agricultural estates in Guyana.” Guyana covers an area of 215,000 square kilometres and has a population of just over 750,000.


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