GEORGETOWN, Guyana — Guyana remains one of the poorest countries in South America and is faced with poor infrastructure, a weak government and high poverty rates. However, the country is plentiful of vast natural resources, which just might be the solution to alleviating Guyana from poverty. Guyana’s agricultural sector is one of the most productive components of the country’s economy, accounting for 33 percent of Guyana’s GDP and 30 percent of the country’s employment.
In recent years, though, Guyana’s agricultural sector has faced many challenges (e.g. unstable international commodity prices and extreme weather), the country’s non-traditional agricultural sector is expanding, bringing in profits and acting as a source of growth for Guyana.
Guyana’s Traditional Agricultural Sector
The traditional elements of Guyana’s agricultural sector include sugar and rice. In Guyana, rice has remained a staple food item throughout the history of the country’s agricultural-based society and is consumed domestically and exported internationally. Export figures for rice in 2017 (535,843 tons) surpassed that of 2016 (500,000 tons) and 2015, according to the Guyana Rice Development Board (GRDB). The increased global rice prices resulted in increased export earnings for Guyana, amounting to approximately $200,000,000 in 2017.
The sugar industry has been a bedrock of Guyana’s agricultural sector; however, changes in the global trading environment have placed significant pressure on Guyana’s traditional agricultural commodities. For instance, uncertain global sugar prices have encouraged the government of Guyana to cease operations of many sugar estates in the country since sugar production has become unprofitable.
Guyana’s Non-Traditional Agricultural Sector
In the last five years, there has been an increase in the export of Guyana’s non-traditional agricultural commodities, an occurrence of which has become a source of growth for Guyana despite the uncertain traditional agricultural sector.
Non-traditional commodities of Guyana’s agricultural sector include agro-processing exports, prepared foods and fresh foods. There is high demand in the Caribbean, European and North American markets for Guyana’s agro-processing exports and prepared foods including jams, jellies, molasses, coconut milk, spices, pasta and others.
International demand — specifically in the Caribbean, Europe and North America — is growing for Guyana’s fresh fruit, fresh vegetables, plantains, roots, tubers, herbs, spices, beef, poultry products and dairy products. Compared to other developing countries across the globe, Guyana continues to have a relatively high rate of food production due to the abundance of arable land and water. Despite recent declines in Guyana’s traditional agricultural sector, the country has continued to produce enough for local consumption and trade.
Popular Exports from Guyana
In February 2018, the Guyana Marketing Corporation (GMC) identified the commodities in high demand from Guyana in 2017: coconuts, wiri wiri pepper, pumpkins, eddoes, watermelons, mangoes, pineapples, limes and ginger. Coconut exports in 2017 increased by 29 percent from 2016.
Lime, watermelon, mango and pineapple exports accounted for 6 percent of all commodities exported in 2015, 2016 and 2017. Lime exports in 2017 increased by 39 percent from 2016; mango exports in 2017 increased by 19 percent from 2016; pineapple exports in 2017 increased by 54 percent from 2016.
In January 2018, the government of Guyana and the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) identified honey as a new industry within Guyana’s agricultural sector that Caribbean 360 stated could “help the government attain its development goals…and provide a sustainable pathway out of poverty for Guyanese.”
For Guyana’s major exports (i.e. rice and sugar), commodity prices have dropped in the last 8 years; however, Eusi Evelyn, of the Caribbean Technological Consultancy Services (CTSC) Network Project Liaison Officer, GCCI, stated that alternative exports, such as honey, could not only grow Guyana’s GDP, but also adhere to the country’s Low Carbon Development Strategy. This strategy promotes economic development for Guyana while addressing climate change.
Guyana’s apiculture industry is currently producing 11,300 gallons of nectar annually. By-products, such as bees’ wax, royal jelly and pollen also contribute to the country’s GDP.
Though Guyana’s agricultural sector is prosperous for the country, it could still benefit from upgraded quality control systems, modern post-harvest handling and increased airlift capacities for international trading. There are many governmental and private organizations involved in Guyana’s agricultural sector working to alleviate these issues.
For instance, the Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) is the main governmental agency responsible for promoting the development of both traditional and non-traditional exports for Guyana. The National Agricultural Research and Extension Institute (NAREI), a branch of MOA, produces research which generates technology and systems to maintain export capacity.
The New Guyana Marketing Corporation (New GMC) is a semi-autonomous agency under MOA, which provides a wide range of services for the producers and exporters of non-traditional commodities. The New GMC provides producer support, which includes farmer training, export assessments for farmers and technical assistance related to post-harvest technologies.
Rising Out of Poverty
Additionally, the Central Packaging Facility (CPF) of the New GMC offers standardized cleaning and packaging services for fresh produce exports daily. The New GMC’s marketing and promotion assistance provide country-specific export marketing bulletins, which detail profiles of key markets for products with strong export potential.
With continued organizational support, Guyana’s agricultural sector can provide a legitimate avenue for Guyanese out of poverty.
– Kara Roberts