- Agri Minister sets goals for 2020
MINISTER of Agriculture Dr. Leslie Ramsammy, on Wednesday last, set two goals for dairy producers in Guyana to achieve by 2020 – to reduce the import of milk by 25% and reduce the import of dairy products by 10%.
These goals are attainable, Minister Ramsammy told stakeholders during a consultation on dairy development in Guyana at the Guyana Livestock Development Authority (GLDA) at Mon Repos, East Coast Demerara.
“Those are ambitious goals, but also reachable goals,” he declared to the stakeholders participating in the consultation, including dairy farmers from various regions, officials of GLDA and persons representing the interests of groups and companies.
During the open discussion it was found that the issue of pasturage for the rearing of dairy cows was an issue that needed to be addressed. Minister Ramsammy pointed out that it will be looked into and a decision would have to be arrived at whether there would be collective pasture for cooperatives.
He spoke of great difficulty regarding pasturage over the years, and observed that clearly land cannot be provided near where persons live. The Agriculture Minister said that because it requires huge amounts of land, it would be collective pastures owned by co-ops. Ramsammy observed that there have been many problems encountered with co-ops over time, adding that stakeholders have to get their act together on this issue. “I am trying my best, we are developing some land for that purpose and I hope that people will cooperate with us so we could have that.”
The problem of stray catchers picking up animals was another issue to be addressed by owners of cows living in developed communities.
The meeting also noted other issues to be addressed, such as bettering dairy development through improved genetics to increase milk yields; education for dairy producers; pricing of milk; addressing collection and distribution systems; regulation of milk and dairy products; ownership of plants, either by co-ops or stakeholders; marketing strategies; investors, both local and otherwise, and feed for cows.
Expressing his gratitude to all stakeholders for participating in the discussion, Ramsammy stressed the forum’s importance, pointing out that it was the first one regarding the subject of dairy development in Guyana.
PILLAR OF ECONOMY
He observed that agriculture is a pillar of the country’s economy, contributing approximately 10%, noting that as countries move up the scale, this contribution may become less. Minister Ramsammy noted, however, that Guyana’s import bill for milk in 2013 was US$25M and for milk products in excess of US$35M.
He deplored the fact that this sum was going towards supporting the industries in other countries. The Agriculture Minister stated, however, that changing this could not be done overnight, but Guyana’s products should be able to compete ‘across the board’. He pointed out that diligent work could see some progress towards this in five to six years.
Ramsammy pointed to the Liliendaal and Versailles dairy initiatives in the late 1970s and early 1980s, which were good ones, but poorly planned and they failed. However there is need to correct them he said, and take the process through the chain to produce fresh, pasteurised milk and milk products.
“Guyana’s focus at this time is meeting our local demands,” he said, adding that if this is done, the CARICOM demands could also be met. “I believe together we can do this.”
The Agriculture Minister pointed out that the GLDA was working on the improvement of breeds of cows, artificial insemination, and embryo transfer.
He said that the mistakes made in the past were due to focusing on one aspect of the programme and not about the breed of the animals, and the end result of the product, adding that it was time to do so.
“We are pursuing livestock development in Guyana from a perspective of a value change, from beginning to end, so there are markets etc…,” he stated. In this context, one of the discussions with the stakeholders would focus on the setting up of a dairy plant.
Government is talking to persons who can invest, “But we are willing to provide all the technical support and facilities, and we are willing to participate in public/private partnership,” he said.
He indicated, also, that Government is working with the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), the Canadian Government, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), so that the technical support for the venture could be obtained to meet the standard established for commercial production of milk and dairy products.
Minister Ramsammy also pointed out that in the pipeline are the Food Safety Bill and the Animal Welfare Bill which are critical pieces of legislation to support a formal industry. He stated that the first reading of the Food Safety Bill will take place on June 19 and is expected to be passed shortly after without opposition.
He also expressed anticipation of the operationalising of a small dairy plant in Region 6. He said this was a private sector initiative by Freddy’s Supermarket which has announced the procurement of equipment for a small dairy plant to meet the supermarket’s needs with pasteurised milk. The plant is expected to produce 1,000 litres per day. Ramsammy indicated that Government is also speaking to a group of investors about setting up a plant in Region 5.
Pointing out that Sterling Products has been working with farmers in the Essequibo Islands and on the West Demerara, Minister Ramsammy expressed the hope that a meeting with those additional investors could result in formulating a plan to build the industry. He noted, however, that while some persons would not want to be caught up in the commercial aspect, others would.
He said that visits to developing countries have shown that their models had adopted the co-op methods in running dairy plants.
“I do believe that farmers in Guyana should have a say in establishing these plants, and to have a say in honing them,” he said.
The meeting was aimed at establishing a vibrant dairy industry in Guyana, to replace the importation of dairy products into the country with excess to export.
Minister Ramsammy said that there would also be regional meetings to address the same issue and feedback would be provided through a quarterly newsletter on Dairy Development in Guyana, which would contain information provided by the GLDA.
CEO of the GLDA, Dr. Dindyal Permaul who also spoke to the stakeholders, pointed out that milk was an essential part of a healthy diet and Guyana despite many efforts over the years is unable to satisfy the local needs for this product. He gave the assurance that the GLDA had no intention of taking 100 years to reach where they wanted to go. A commitment was given by the GLDA for continued feedback and communication with the producers.