A recent study by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) shows that since the start of the the coronavirus, COVID-19, farmers are losing income by between 20 and 50 percent, causing government to decide to buy produce directly from them, according to Agriculture Minister Zulfikar Mustapha.
He noted that due to COVID-19, restaurant and food establishments are opening limited hours and so the sales of farmers/businesses.
He said after the COVID-19 pandemic is over another opportunity is a Public Procurement System of agriculture commodities to the government institutions such as the army, hospitals and school feeding program be sourced from farmers or farmers’ groups.
“These public intuitions are in constant need of agriculture produce and can be an outlet for farm supply. These facilities already spend government money to purchase food, therefore, we will direct a certain percentage to local farmers/ businesses,” he said.
Addressing Wednesday’s extensive discussion organised by the Guyana Manufacturing and Services Association (GMSA) on the topic “Opportunities for strengthening the Value Chain and expanding agriculture in a post COVID-19 Environment”, Mr. Mustapha said a recent regional assessment by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) on the impacts of COVID-19 on Food Security and the Agriculture sector shows that there has been a decline in farmers income – on average of 20-50% income loss of farmers.
He said food traders have experienced difficulties in transporting food items over the past three months and they have also recorded a reduction in customers and so the level of sales has decreased.
Other problems, he said, facing farmers are reported difficulty accessing agriculture inputs – seeds and planting materials, and fertilizer and pesticides, increased prices of seeds/fertilizer, scarcity of seed varieties/ planting material, fertilizers and pesticides).
The Agriculture Minister said input suppliers and food traders have recorded lower sales due to business restrictions, client’s restrictions and higher operating cost of agri-businesses. With agri-businesses expected to continue facing difficulties, Mr. Mustapha government agencies need to buy more directly from farmers. “These public intuitions are in constant need of agriculture produce and can be an outlet for farm supply. These facilities already spend government money to purchase food, therefore, we will direct a certain percentage to local farmers/ businesses,” he said.
Mr. Mustapha said agriculture agencies, such as the Guyana Marketing Corporation and the National Agricultural Research and Extension Institute (NAREI ) would work with farmers to form formal market arrangement, such as clusters, to address the raw materials challenge for agro-processors and inputs for agro-producers. “This will assist with issues of reliability, quantity and quality of supply,” he said.
He said Guyana needs to expand and shift agriculture from primary production to value-added to reduce the 41 percent dependence on imports such as processed products, dairy products, and grains such as corn and soybean etc. He reasoned that would help Guyana reduce its domestic food import Bill of GYD$45 billion and at the same time tap into the estimated US$8-10 billion CARICOM food market.