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Oily, newly rich Guyana has become a center of assembly for various bodies of state and private officials who wish to justify their activities in economic projects with popular appeal of wealth creation.
Even though some of them will aggravate the climate crisis in a region already highly vulnerable to climatic crisis. Some months ago, there was the energy symposium at which the voices of perceptive Guyanese critics were repressed. On Thursday, the Agri-Investment Forum opened in our capital city.
Unlike the menace posed by oil exploration and its hazards, agriculture is without a doubt population friendly. And if well planned with popular participation, one of the most beneficial of economic activities.
Because of the way money is being spent in Guyana today, where the word “billion” (as a billion or billions of dollars) has become an official buzz word, it is necessary to raise certain issues while the forum is in progress.
The mode of development being pursued by the government elected in 2020 is designed to benefit friends of the government.
As soon as the 2020 election had been decided, the present Attorney General issued the proclamation, “the victory of the PPP represents a triumph of good over evil.” These words can only mean that in the programs to follow, virtue, ranking and entitlement had already been determined by the way people marked their ballots in the 2020 election.
The new cabinet hit the ground running and has never stopped unfolding plans already cut and dried with selected investors who knew their chances long before the returning government was sworn in.
One reason for this letter is the need to alert the public to the fact that things are proceeding with no reference whatever to the way Guyana has developed.
As I argued last year, spelling it out in my message on the 135th anniversary of the birth of Victoria village, Guyana is the complex of village civilizations all of which can claim by now to be organic. First, there are the native or indigenous villages of the first nations located at strategic points and locations along rivers and in relation to savannahs and forests. Secondly, there is a village civilization that resulted from the self-emancipation of the enslaved peoples of Africa. The third set of villages resulted from a second wave of migration from plantation ranges and other various conditions. Two of these conditions included involvement of the Colonial State, the second being spearheaded by the Venn Commission after the Enmore Massacre of 1948.
Without going into detail, it can be said that an important part of the life of all these villages has been agricultural. Elsewhere, I have mentioned researches that shows many of these village civilizations in food security for the population, as well as for export to the region and beyond. This agriculture was complex and included a very lively Guyanese shipping service based on schooners. Rice was only one of the crops grown and after a time became the leading item in terms of organized farming and foreign earnings. This summary will have its weaknesses, but the main argument can be defended if challenged.
Some other commentators, like Mr. Glen Lall, have pointed to the over-kill of roads leaving everywhere and costing billions in a procurement process that has been questioned by many. At the risk of engaging the unbridled fury of my critics and perhaps being turned into a super “monster” with “race on the brain” – if monsters have a brain, I declare publicly my fear that the Agri-Investment Forum may well result in big deals for which our government is very famous by now.
New lands will continue to be alienated to financially empowered groups and classes but the villagers, who had been tilling the land since the middle of the 19th century, in too many cases find it impossible to find a road leading into their farms, or any means of transporting their crops from farm to market.
The Guyanese citizens with long experience in climate change and conservation have sounded an alarm about that part of a shrinking fish harvest noticeable since the start of oil drilling. The fishing industry has created a class of “fishermen” and women fish vendors all along the coast. In support of this was a boat building and seine-making craft that engaged many. One of the most vibrant rural cooperatives was a fishermen’s co-op which among other things traded in supplies to the sector.
Villagers along the coast with whom some of us have frequently grounded are aware of their unused resources and potential including ground provisions, rice, coconuts, and sweet water fishing. Decades long neglect, since the end of foot and mouth disease, of the pig sector which is a base for pork, ham, and bacon, is almost a crime. There has been no famous advancement in cattle and dairy. Many households have persisted with keeping their chicken enterprises alive and should be commended. In many of these domestic small sectors, women are the cheap producers.
My challenge to the Agri-Investment Forum is to seize the chance of advocating and supporting small producers who have been the foundation of the people’s economy. The development of this sector is the foundation of an organic native small factor capable of growth and expansion with the potential of achieving many of the stated aims of the leaders concerning food security. The farmers and peasants of Guyana are proud of their work.
This letter has been rushed after Thursday’s newscast. It’s time that we begin to point and rely on the productive resources of ordinary simple Guyanese of all races whose labor has created and sustained the political elites that rule and misrule. I shall continue to argue that it is neglect of these concerns that have taken the vigor out of the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME) on which I hope to comment soon.