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Agriculture More Than Food On The Table: A Conceptual Approach Within Guyana’s Oil and Gas Riches by Dr HAD Chesney

Agriculture More Than Food On The Table: A Conceptual Approach Within Guyana’s Oil and Gas Riches by Dr HAD Chesney

Agriculture More Than Food On The Table: A Conceptual Approach Within Guyana’s Oil and Gas
Riches Guyana has recently become a major oil and gas country. The estimated recovery resource base is 9 to 15 billion barrels of oil equivalent (boe). Consequently, GDP is projected to grow by 49.7% in 2022.
The Governor of the Central Bank reported that, for 2021, the Oil and Gas sector revenues were US$ 680
million. The Exxon Consortium estimated that six Floating Production Storage and Offloading (FPSO) are
required to harvest this resource base. Extrapolating from 2021, the projected annual Government
revenue in 2027 is cautiously estimated at USD4.8 billion.
Guyana held its Inaugural International Energy Conference “Guyana’s Energy Conference: Aspirations for a Sustainable Future” from February 15-18, 2022. From reports, this was not an Oil and Gas conference
per se. It showcased opportunities for Guyana’s sustainable development with the oil boom being the
pivot for the viability of the other sectors.
Keynote speakers identified “climate change, infrastructure, environment, marketing and energy”; “renewable energy, education, and health” and “education, health, training, and the enhancement of
competencies”. These keynote takeaways facilitated 11 Platforms for Moving Forward, including;
financing renewable energy projects, growing the non-oil sector, and training and mentorship.
The agriculture and food sector could benefit from many of these cross-cutting platforms. However,
despite many Government pronouncements on its importance, agriculture was not named as a growth
sector. This is surprising but not unexpected. Since 2001, hemispheric Ministers of Agriculture
recognised that the policy space for agriculture during important development conversations, was
declining, especially for developing countries. This was accompanied by a reduction in resource
allocation. Further, it was linked to the underestimation of agriculture’s importance to the rest of the
economy, which was directly related to the traditional measurement of national agriculture GDP.
Consequently, an InterAmerican Group, led by the InterAmerican Institute for Cooperation on
Agriculture (IICA), developed an alternative which measured both output (as per the traditional method)
and income. It also measured relationships between agriculture and other parameters, such as; the
impact on rural development and quality of life, food security and sovereignty, maintenance of the
environment and biodiversity, and the backward and forward linkages to other production sectors.
When measured in 12 countries in the Americas and the Caribbean, the difference was 1.9 to 11.6,
depending on the state of the country’s development.
Therefore, it can be extrapolated that the “true” contribution of agriculture to GDP in 2020 in Guyana
would have at least been twice the reported 16.9%. With the expected rapid growth of the Oil and Gas
sector and hence the economy, this multiplier factor can be expected to substantially increase.
This data strongly supports Governmental actions to prioritise the use of oil and gas returns in the
revitalisation of the agricultural sector. These resources are to support potentially viable industries and
entities. For example, climate-resilient agriculture can be supported with new protections against rising
sea levels and unusual precipitation patterns. But they should not be used to “prop up” those that are
not financially and/or economically viable.
The following paragraphs provide some suggestions, necessarily limited in scope, for possible
interventions/initiatives to be supported by the Oil and Gas bonanza.
Sugar Cane Industry
This discussion is on sugar cane and not sugar. Indeed, sugar is to be only one economic commodity with
production confined to quantities needed for profitable markets: offering the required forms of sugar
and provided in the most appropriate packaging.
A second commodity is ethanol. Previous work has shown that the production of ethanol as a fuel was
viable once the price of oil exceeded US$60 per barrel. Naturally, this critical figure will have to be reexamined. This profitable commodity also has the potential to substantially and very rapidly kickstart
the Government’s renewable energy platform as part of its Low Carbon Development Strategy to
complement the Oil and Gas sector. The model of Brazil, another major oil and gas producer, can be
adopted/adapted as its specific guidelines and role in enforcing same.
The third suggested commodity is cogenerated electricity, to be developed at an estate with the
necessary conditions to allow the enterprise to be viable. Despite the difficulties experienced at Skeldon
Estate, the concept remains credible. Notwithstanding, the preparation of the business plan must be
accompanied by a critical revisit of all aspects of the development and turbulent operations of that
initiative.
The fourth suggested commodity is livestock (ruminant) feed supplements based on sugar cane tops.
The impending commissioning of multi-star hotels will require premium quality meat. The Sugar Cane
Feed Centre in Trinidad and Tobago has established the technology to produce quality meats from feeds
based on sugar cane tops and molasses. Guysuco, can “fine tune” and commercialise the technology.
The final suggestion is bagasse board. This can be used as binder-less laminated particleboard, primarily
for internal partitions, and multipurpose packaging. The experiences in Jamaica for the first commodity
can be examined.
This recommendation to resuscitate sugar cane cultivation may not find unanimity because of historical
performances linked to sugar. However, even with only three operational estates, 8,000 persons are
employed, and 49,500 acres are under cultivation with another 50,000 acres being abandoned but land
formed with drainage and irrigation infrastructure. Because of the dominance of heavy clay soils on the
coastlands, sugarcane remains one of the few crops that can be readily cultivated on large acres.
In addition, sugarcane cultivation enhances both national income and output: the two major pillars for
the alternative/non-traditional method of measuring agricultural GDP; and satisfies almost all the
Platforms listed at the Oil and Gas Conference.
The existing large acreage of sugarcane cultivation (with potential for expansion) is critical to the
economic and environmental development of the coastlands and, with its expansive drainage and
irrigation network, also serves as a crucial adaptation measure against climate change impacts, such as
possible climate change events.
The challenge is to arrive at the correct mix of viable commodities.
Non-coastal agricultural production
Regional agricultural imports approximate US$ 3.8 billion with corn and soya (for animal feed), meat,
white potatoes, niche fruits, and vegetables being major imports. Because of its large land mass and
altitude characteristics, Guyana is a CARICOM country that can significantly contribute to the reduction
of this massive bill.
However, the increased cultivation must occur in the “hinterland”. Corn and soya and beef in the
Intermediate Savannahs in large, mechanised acreages.
White potatoes and niche fruits and vegetables in the Interior Highlands, dominated by the Pakaraimas.
These commodities can best be produced by MSMEs owned and/or operated by the resident Indigenous
Peoples. Special attention will be required to effectively manage the existing flora and fauna.
A major limiting factor for the successful economic production of these commodities is the inadequacy
and/or unavailability of public infrastructure, roads and utilities. Accelerated provision of these by the
Government though revenue spending is needed.
Restructured research for development facilities
The meaningful use of oil and gas revenues for the above and other relevant commercial initiatives
require an all-integrated, focused, result-and time-based approach to research for development along
the entire value chain. This approach, led by the Government, was followed by Chile in the successful
development of its grape/wine industry and could be adapted.
Conclusion: The resources are available for successfully making the agriculture sector a key economic
driver. The time is now for the manifestation of an overwhelming “all of Government” political will. With
the growing national concern on local content (local benefits), this will garner “all of society” support.
This programme will also benefit CARICOM with a measurable reduction in its food import bill as
recognised by President Ali at the recent Caricom Heads of Government meeting. The decades-long
adage, “Guyana, the breadbasket of the region”, could fast become a reality.
Dr H Arlington D Chesney is a leading Caribbean Agricultural professional who has served his country, the
Caribbean and the Hemisphere. He is a Professional Emeritus of IICA and, in 2011, was awarded
Guyana’s Golden Arrow of Achievement for his contribution to agricultural development in Guyana and
the Caribbean.

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