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Within recent times there has been much talk about foreign investment in the agriculture sector in Guyana. The preferred approach appears to be mega farms.
From media reports the intention behind encouraging foreign investment is aimed at addressing the food security of the investor’s country with our own food security as a ‘spin off beneficiary’.
I do not see foreign investment in mega farms as the solution to, but rather the source of a problem, or rather a series of problems. It appears to the uninformed by-sitter that, agriculture is destined to be re-categorised as “an extractive” type industry. It appears that the investor(s) will come, cultivate, harvest, process and ship the finished products to their homeland.
I shall attempt to briefly examine the major down-side of mega farms in Guyana. It is important to observe that outside of the Berbice savannahs, the lands identified as best suited for these farms are located within Region Nine. The lands which appear to be preferred for these operations are lands in Region Nine.
These operations are highly mechanised and employ the use of chemical fertilizers in large quantities. Two things arise out of this fact. Firstly, there is likely to be very little (if any) job opportunities for locals. Secondly, there arises the threat to nature in the Rupununi and the attendant devaluation of the Rupununi as an eco-tourism destination. Rupununi beef is proudly marketed as “organic beef”. This “organic” label and those whose livelihood depend on it appear to be in jeopardy.
A large portion of Rupununi lands are owned by Indigenous villages or are designated protected areas. Some of the lands are leased for farming or cattle ranching and some are designated mining lands. Further, the North Rupununi District Development Board is strongly advocating for the wetlands to be given protected area status. It appears to this uninformed citizen that, a lot of what is projected to happen in terms of mega farms will touch and concern the Indigenous Peoples of the Rupununi, since there may be encroachment on, or the need to lawfully utilise their lands.
This raises the question of Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC). Have there been or will there be consultations aimed at obtaining the Free Prior and Informed Consent of the Indigenous Peoples of the Rupununi before embarking of the proposed (and much sought after) foreign investment in mega farms?
My preference is for family farms. These will guarantee economic opportunity for every family while utilising in a more meaningful way, lands privately owned by villages. Village Councils all own tractors and trailers which can be used by farmers bringing an economic benefit to the Council, resulting in Village Councils being less dependent on State resources.
The support of the government through technical and financial interventions is necessary. The markets for farmers’ primary products would be guaranteed through the establishment of a cooperative which will purchase all of the farmers’ output from every village. This cooperative will then process the primary products, converting these into top quality processed foods. In the first instance, the cooperative will enjoy a guaranteed market in the schools’ feeding programme and in the hospitals and health centres of the Nation. The country’s supermarkets and shops will follow and export will be the next step.