Faced with increasing threats to food supply and high prices, fair-minded citizens expect their government to make food production and processing a top priority; also improving the conditions of farmers and agriculturalists while ensuring the effectiveness of its praedial larceny squad.
As a flagship example, the question must now be asked: Why is government not ensuring that the Moruga Agro-Processing and Light Industrial Park and Gran Chemin Fishing Depot are fully functional? Here is an opportunity for Minister of Trade and Industry Paula Gopee-Scoon and Minister of Agriculture Kazim Hosein to explain why and proceed to do what is right for the country.
I feel obliged to raise this Moruga food matter again after reading in the international news magazine, The Economist, about the escalating food shortages around the world. Its front cover was headlined The coming food catastrophe. Last May, managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Christalina Georgieva bluntly declared: "Many countries around the world will face dangerous food shortages. The international community needs to take fast action …. to support vulnerable households and ensure sufficient agricultural supply.” This country will pay a heavy human cost if it fails to develop agriculture. The next generation will suffer.
Noticeably, Minister Gopee-Scoon is a busy minister, making announcements and promises about food while Minister Hosein is also busy shaking hands and appealing to farmers. But at this time of food insecurity and escalating food prices, this country needs more concrete action on measurable local food production. It’s about credibility. This is why the Moruga Agro-Processing and Light Industrial Park Project and the Gran Chemin Fishing Depot are so important to complete. After all, over $150 million are already spent on them. The funds were placed within her ministry.
Two things here: These two Moruga food production projects were launched before the 2020 general elections. These projects have tremendous exemplary value in terms of local food production, export processing, employment, foreign exchange and stimulating downstream development. (Moruga is blessed with a mixed, Indian and African population.) The south-west region is a high unemployment area with hundreds of young men and women poor and idle.
PM Dr Keith Rowley should know the connection between such socio-economic conditions and crime and gangs. Beware of the warning by the IMF managing director: “History has shown that hunger (and unemployment) often triggers social unrest and violence.” This goes beyond “parenting and mental deficiency.”
Singing Sandra put the IMF warning into verse: “Empty promises is all that they hear…. Revolution’s bait, politician’s pawn…. No wonder they view the world with scorn.” The point is too many broken promises demoralise a population. As agricultural economist Omardath Maharaj repeatedly advocated, food processing has a big economic future. Private entrepreneur Glen Ramdhani established one, Novo Foods, at Point Lisas. Covid did not stop him.
Governments have historically treated agriculture as a Cinderella industry (remaining unrecognised). Why? Both ministers Gopee-Scoon and Hosein now need a strategic compass, a national operational and developmental framework for coordinated direction and sustainable outputs. Both should quickly develop an inclusive White Paper on Agriculture and Food Processing energised by the social capital derived from various groups and including land distribution issues too. The Cinderella days for agriculture must stop by increasing the agriculture budget and its GDP contribution above two percent. This will be to both ministers’ political credit.
The government cannot talk about diversification and leave out, for example, the two Moruga food production plants. Why? Our business and labour sectors must press the issue forward. Food concerns all. While Caricom food security project is piloted by Guyana’s president, Irfaan Ali, and Barbados PM Mia Mottley, TT, according to Local Government Minister Faris Al-Rawi, has the land and human resources not only to share in Caricom’s food security but to save this country from the starvation threat cited by the IMF and other independent observers. Calling for more action than talk, Mr Al-Rawi spoke last week at a Guyana-TT partnership on, guess what, “agro-processing plans.” Will he advocate the Moruga projects in cabinet? These connect to San Fernando West. With him, ministers Gopee-Scoon and Hosein must now quickly take action, starting with the white paper and Moruga food projects. Or explain why not.