Oil-Food Production Bridge

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Long recognized is the fact that sustainable food production is critical to the economic and social wellbeing of any country. Further, it would be a case of callous neglect if any nation, with its natural wealth of arable land and fresh water supply, miss an opportunity to feed itself.

Guyana’s food production sector has much potential if many of the inherent constraints were addressed. We can truly be the solution for States which are deficit in the increasingly scarce natural wealth of arable and fresh water, and lack the culture and history of embracing agriculture.

And there will be compelling reasons for other countries to look to us for their food production needs. Firstly, the United Nations has committed itself to 17 goals – Agenda for Sustainable Development – to be attained by 2030. At number two of these 17 goals is the goal to “end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture.”

Secondly, according to the OECD-FAO Agricultural Outlook 2015-2024 (http://www.fao.org/3/a-i4738e.pdf) “exports of agricultural commodities are projected to become concentrated in fewer countries, while imports become more dispersed over a large number of countries. The importance of relatively few countries in supplying global markets for some key commodities increases market risks, including those associated with natural disasters or the adoption of disruptive trade measures.”

Here is the solid opening for a well-oiled vertically integrated food production sector in Guyana to avoid these risks domestically, and grasp the opportunities these global realities present.

Guyana has not only committed to the UN 17 goals for sustainable development, but the current Government has declared that its impending Green State Development Strategy (GSDS) “will lay the foundation for inclusive green economic growth, while providing a roadmap for achieving the sustainable development targets as articulated in the Sustainable Development Goals.”

An important component of that “roadmap for achieving the sustainable development targets” can be how we quantum leap to a viable, competitive Food Production (FP) sector.

As I posited in last week’s column, the new Oil and Gas (O&G) sector can be a harbinger of transformation for agriculture, as we know it, once there is the firm political commitment and compatible policy and macro-economic framework. From this single, new O&G sector, there can be a flow several new, reformed sectors in the country.

But this will not happen without a series of critical interventions and steps, many of which have been distilled and articulated in previous development strategies from the National Development Strategy to the pre-2015 Low Carbon Development Strategy. The GSDS can now bring the required fresh framework perspectives to realize this objective.

For a start, a few obvious actions, presented below in a rudimentary form, are proffered to cement the symbiotic relationship between an O&G sector and a new FP sector:

  1. A clear political declaration of commitment to a modern agriculture sector but going beyond what we know the sector to be in terms of structure and output. In so doing, the Ministry of Agriculture should be replaced with a Ministry of Food Production and Agro-Industries.
  2. A dedicated percentage of state oil revenue should be committed to an agro-industrial development fund to support the food production sector, especially to aid innovation and capacity building.
  3. A special agro-industrial zone/estate be created where some of the natural gas from Liza can be brought onshore as a reliable, competitive source of energy for agro-industrial facilities. One possible location, where there is an adequate and unencumbered area with favourable land and sea logistics, is the mouth of the Berbice River/Crab Island area. This site was touted for a deep-water harbour.
  4. O&G operators, as part of their corporate social responsibility, should be encouraged to support relevant institutions, which are to produce the pool of skills and expertise required for the new food production sector. I refer to the Guyana School of Agriculture, a reformed Port Mourant Skills Training School and the University of Guyana School of Entrepreneurship and Business Innovation to meet these new requirements.
  5. The FP sector should be mainstreamed in the planned GSDS as well as the relevant policy support crafted for this new sector.
  6. A reorientation of our school and tertiary education curricula to cater for the FP sector and establish that critical link with an O&G sector.

Making this adjustment and developing the needed synergies will not be attained instantly, but can be given impetus in the post-2020 realities i.e. the advent of an O&G sector.

To those who say building a direct, viable bridge for O&G and FP is hard; I wish to recall a line from –  The Harder They Come:

“Listen, Rome was not built in a day
Opposition will come your way
But the harder the battle, you see
Is the sweeter the victory now
You can get it if you really want”

(The writer Robert M. Persaud (robertmpersaud.com) is the Former Minister of Natural Resources and the Environment, and now the Managing Consultant of Georgetown-based Ipower Consultancy. Send feedback to: persaudrobert5@gmail.com)

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