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|By Dr. Richard Van West-Charles- As I reflected on the recent activities in the Americas, particularly on the outcome of the Summit of the Americas and the importance given to some of the critical outcomes, namely, Food Security, Energy Security and Climate Change; one is forced to give recognition to the visionary leadership of Guyana’s first President with Executive responsibilities, Mr. Linden Forbes Sampson Burnham, and the role he played in the development of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana.
It is apposite to note that the present thrust of the Grow More Food Campaign of the present Government seems to be on a continuum of the path of the Five-Year Plan of the PNC related to Feed, Clothe and House the Nation (FCH) between 1972 and 1976. But what does Food Security mean? According to the Food and Agricultural Organisation, “Food security exists when all people, at all times have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food which means their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life”
The embrace of the strategic importance of Food Security in Guyana goes back to the 1941 report of the Director of Agriculture which addresses the need for a Grow More Food Campaign which ostensibly focussed on rice production.
The FCH Programme and the present government’s Grow More Food Campaign, goes beyond rice production although with a heightened emphasis on rice production. So important was Food Security and its link to our economic independence to Linden Forbes Sampson Burnham, we were all encouraged to recite a verse from Khalil Gibran’s The Prophet, “Pity the Nation that eats a bread that did it not sow and drinks a wine that flows not from its own wine press”. This is the essence of Forbes Burnham and his belief of the strategic linkage between Food Security, Energy Security and the Independence of Guyana and the Caribbean.
His strategic vision and commitment to the Food Security of Guyana and the Caribbean can be further strengthened by the statement to the Conference of Officials of the Commonwealth Caribbean Territories in Georgetown, 50 years ago in August 1967, when he warned: “Either we weld ourselves into a regional grouping serving primarily the Caribbean or have our various territories and nations drawn hither and thither into other large groupings where the peculiar problems of the Caribbean are lost, and where we become the objects of neo-colonialist exploitation and achieve the pitiable status of international mendicants”.
These initiatives were all aligned and heightened toward Food and Energy Security for Guyana and despite the efforts of international pressure placed on Guyana due to ideological reasons, our country remained resolute in its commitment to Food and Energy Security. This was most manifest during the Cold War period when for example, the terms of the Mahaica Mahaicony Abary – Agricultural Development Authority (MMA/ADA) Loan changed due to the political intervention of a Board member, by placing greater conditionalities which resulted in a burden on our nation and its independence.
My father-in-law’s commitment to Food Security with the establishment of the Urban Agricultural Programme in the Office of the President, would have reaped more rewards, had there not been political short sightedness. Likewise, with the Upper Mazuruni Hydroelectric Project there was targeted economic aggression from Venezuela, as threats were issued by the World Bank, which later suspended its arrangement to finance the project despite its positive feasibility analysis by the technical experts of the World Bank.
Today in the Americas, we have come full circle not only for Guyana but for the Region and the globe as evidenced by the impact of the war in Ukraine and the COVID-19 pandemic for Food and Energy Security. Food and Nutrition is defined as critical for the development process as a human right and vital for development. This matter was raised by Forbes Burnham, the first Prime Minister of Independent Guyana in 1967 and was further underscored in 2013 by a Food and Agriculture Organisation Report, which warns that “A continuation of the current CARICOM food import bill trends, can only lead to further nutritional and economic impoverishment for the people of the Region for generations to come.”
I daresay, there is much more evidence on Guyana’s position with respect to Food Security in a congruence of political views but differ on (1) ownership of programmes and ideas and (2) in the process of implementation. I am sure there are lessons to be learnt regarding sustainable development, thereby underscoring that no progress can be achieved by a siloed approach, but by building blocks of strategies, policies, and systems. No one political party is the owner of ideas and knowledge, but our recognition of knowledge, as a driver for development and the implementation of same; only then can we move to innovation and creativity for the benefit of all humanity.