Budget Speech Dr Ramsammy - 20122974 11 Apr, 2012
April 11, 2012
Minister of Agriculture [Dr. Ramsammy]: Mdm. Deputy Speaker, I am not quite sure about a maiden speech, but probably it is a maiden speech as the Minister of Agriculture.
Mdm. Deputy Speaker and colleagues all, I do want to take the opportunity in starting to congratulate all the new Members of Parliament since it is the first time I am standing to speak in this Tenth Parliament, and particularly, all the young people who are in this Tenth Parliament. It is good to see so many young people in our National Assembly. It is good to see some of the veterans also. It is a good mix.
As it is expected, so far, and I expect it will get even fiercer as we go, there is always fierce debate on the merits of any budget, and the Budget 2012 is no difference. But budget time is also the time when we fiercely debate the performance of the Government and the Budget 2012 presentation, and debate, is an opportunity for us to give our judgement on the performance of the PPP/C Government. We always use the occasion of these budget presentations to debate the directions the country is heading, not surprisingly we, on the Government side, will passionately defend our records, and we will argue that we are on the right trajectory of development. The Opposition Members will seek further with equal passion to chide us and to debunk our claims. It is the nature of budget debates. We do so sometimes poignantly. I heard last night, Dr., the Reverend, Kwame Gilbert. I heard my old friend the Hon. Member Mr. Keith Scott’s poignant presentation, but often times we do so with fire and brimstone. I saw the Hon. Member Mr. Moses Nagamootoo, the Hon. Member, youth, Mr. Irfaan Ali and most of the time… [An Hon. Member: Youth!] He is pretty young actually… and most of the time our debate is characterised by a great deal of hyperbole.
This is not unique to Guyana. It happens everywhere, in country, particularly at budget time we see the hyperbole in our presentations and our claims. I believe that all of us in this House want the same thing for Guyana – a future in which we attain our destiny of being the breadbasket of the Caribbean; a country which lives up to its potential as the El Dorado of the Caribbean, of providing a decent standard of living for everyone. It would be an understatement to say that we disagree with each other on the development trajectory of our country. We know we disagree; we do not really have to be disagreeable. This is our country; we want the best for Guyana, no matter how the House is made up.
Some of us would argue that we could, and that we should, have been better off than we are today. It is an argument that we have debated vigorously before. It is an argument we are now vigorously debating and I am sure that throughout this Tenth Parliament we will be debating that robustly. But the truth is that we will be narrow-minded if we cannot acknowledge that Guyana today is better off than it was in 1992, and that is not saying somebody did that. We are better off today. We may not be as better off as all of us want, but we are better off. I know some of us might find it difficult to concede that our people and our country are better off today than it was in 1990, and I am proud to have been a part of this Guyanese story.
No matter how we try to take sides, the fact is that more people today have jobs; more people earn better salary; more people own their own homes; more people have access to better health care; more people have access to water; more people have access to improved sanitation; more have access to electricity; more people have education - there are more professionals in our country today - more people own their own cars; more people have television and more people have telephones; more people have a higher standard of living, and more of us live in that corner called the middle class. [Mr. Greenidge: It is aboard.] That might be so Hon. Member Mr. Greenidge, but the fact is that we cannot deny that. My comrade and my colleague, my Madras brother, the Hon. Member Dr. Ramayya, knows that where he lives, there was a time - remember, Dr. Ramayya - when one person had a television set and everybody used to come, at the bottom there, and now your neighbours are going for their second and third television sets in their home. That is the truth. And as you know, comrades, that we go at the market corner… My mother is quarrelling with me on why she cannot get a second cell phone to text her son. An eighty-two- year- old woman is doing this to me, so that she can find out where I am. [Ms. Ally: You have bought it for her.] I did. But the fact is that people are better off in our country and none of us can deny that. We can argue that it should have been even better but we are better off today, and we should be able to acknowledge that - the fight about going further along. We must not be intolerant at the same time. We must not be intolerant of our sisters and of our brothers who still believe that, in spite of the progress, we can do even better.
I hear this from many people. We, on this side of the House, would want people to acknowledge that we have challenges and therefore we must be patient, but I want to also believe that each one of us in this House and our sisters and brothers outside are all impatient and that we all want better now, not tomorrow. That is true. As we make our case, though we must be truthful, we can spin - we all do that - but we must not mislead. Take for instance our Hon. Member Mr. Moses Nagamootoo, who in spinning, tried to create an impression that we are more indebted today than ever. He ignored the fact that our debt today stands at less than $1 billion and that in 1992 it was $2.2 billion. He ignored the fact that in 1992 our foreign debt was almost seven hundred per cent out of our GDP and that to date it is below forty-seven per cent, one of the best in the Caribbean, by the way, and that is the truth. We have now surpassed all of the Caribbean countries in terms of our debt management.
We in fact… [An Hon. Member: Our standard of living has not improved.] Your standard of living has improved, brother. It has improved. Believe me, it has improved. I came back to this country and we were standing up at the roadside waiting… but all of you now drive, and we must concede that. So our standard of living is better. It may not be as we want, but it is better.
Take for example, the Hon. Member Mr. Ronald Bulkan stood up and talked, in terms of fishing it has reduced and that is true; there has been a slight decrease, but the fact that is all other sectors within agriculture have increased, and that is the truth also. So we must present a balanced picture. In fishing, it was a deliberate choice, because, in fact, what we are addressing… Our export of marine fish has to be managed because we have to look at the stock and we have to control that. So Suriname, for example, reduced its marine fleet from seventy to thirty. I know that Minister Robert Persaud had been working with the owners of trawlers, and so on, to reduce their number of boats, and we have chosen to do so voluntarily. Let us take this. see I am willing to say that Mr. Bulkan and I think… There was some other Member who spoke this afternoon. I cannot remember if it was the young Hon. Member Ms. Ferguson or Mr. Adams. I am willing to say that what the Hon. Member had stated was not out of mischievousness and to be provocative, but it was that the Member really did not know, because, for example, when the Hon. Member said that Region No. 8 got only $1.8 million for drugs, what was not known is that for a long time now… [Mrs. Lawrence: He forgot that part.] I am just telling you that that is an emergency fund because drugs come from the central supply. I do not know, Minister Ramsaran will talk about 2011, but in 2010, for example, Region 8 received $29 million of medicine. That is the truth. So, sometimes we spin it and we spin it in a particular way. I know all of my colleagues want me to address the issues brought up by my brother Dr. Ramayya and I will at some point. I think that we get the point; we will make our case, but today I am supposed to talk about agriculture and its role in the development of Guyana.
Along time ago, an English and poet and philosopher, Samuel Johnson, wrote that: “Agriculture not only gives riches to a nation, but it is the only riches she can call her own.” As a country, Guyana identifies with this statement. The agriculture budget of 2012 underlines this truth.
I stand in support of the Budget 2012; and today, more specifically, I stand proudly, privileged and honoured to speak on behalf of agriculture and its development in Guyana. Agriculture has always been important in our development. Budget 2012 continues the tradition of investment in agriculture in such a manner that it must retain its place as indispensible in our development trajectory. This year we have allocated more than $15.6 billion to agriculture. In 2011, we expended more than $10 billion and in 2010, we expended $ 9 billion for agriculture.
Our investment in 2012 translates to more than $100 per capita for agriculture. It was less than $5 per capita in 1991. Indeed, that low investment… [Mr. Greenidge: What about 1964?] It was more than $5. [Mr. Greenidge: It was not.] Yes. It was. In fact, because of the low level of investment… If I read just two sentences from Mr. Camacho, in a June 1994 report about what had happened between 1980 and 1990, “Agriculture output fell fifteen per cent between 1980 and 1990. Sugar output, twenty-one per cent to some one hundred and thirty-two thousand tons, the lowest output in 1976, while rice output decline by thirty-four per cent, the lowest level in fourteen years.” One of the reasons given was the reduction and the inefficient allocation of public investment resources which resulted in the deterioration of the infrastructure and support services for water management. There are other reasons, but I thought that I have to mention that. The truth is that agriculture has always been a mainstay in our development story.
Since independence, and to this day, the agriculture sector has been a catalyst. It has been a pillar in our development trajectory. Today, agriculture contributes almost twenty-five per cent to our economy. It accounts for more than thirty-three per cent of direct employment in our country, and almost fifty per cent of Guyana’s export earnings come from agriculture. The significant contribution of agriculture as a major component of our economy is likely persist even though we envisage accelerated growth of mining, emergence of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) as a major player in our economy, the significant growth in service industry and the fledgeling manufacturing industry. Even if oil becomes part of our development growth pole in Guyana, agriculture is likely to remain very significant in our development.
In 2012, we will intensify our efforts to diversify and modernise the sector, overcoming barriers that presently exist. We will continue to enhance genetic stock with improved varieties of crops and breeds of livestock, seek to improve access to more affordable and better fertilisers, more effective financing arrangements, improve availability and access to land, further enhance drainage and irrigation and access road and farm-to-market roads, and ensure stronger and wider markets, and enhance weather-related disaster management. This is the context that, within this context, we must view the agriculture budget of 2012.
Clearly, one of the major priorities of the continued expansion of agriculture is water management. Water security is not a new priority for agriculture. It has been so since creation. We must acknowledge that along the way Guyana has made mistakes in how it managed water. In fact, as the Hon. Member Mr. Greenidge is trying to pull me, most of those mistakes were made before 1992. I will remind the Member of the irrigation system. Dawa pumps, the Manaribishi pumps and the Mibikuri pumps were all down and dysfunctional. That is the God’s truth. In fact, in Number Fifty-two Village and Number Seventy-four Village, out of the twenty-two thousand acres of land available… I am talking about things that the Hon. Member Mr. Prakash Ramjattan would know. In the Number Fifty-two Village and Seventy-four Village area, in 1992, out of the twenty-two thousand acres of land only one thousand could have been cultivated because of lack of cultivation water. The Manaribishi pump was not working, and that is the truth.
It was not only that. Major sluices had become dysfunctional - non-functional. Some of the functional sluices, such as Coizer in Pomeroon, Pepper in Canje, Friendship on the East Bank Demerara, Canal No. 2, Cunia, Golden Grove, Victoria, Alness, Buxton, were all down. The pumps, all around the coast, became dysfunctional - abandoned. That is the work we have been doing - putting back all the pumps, getting all the sluices to work. Over the last decade we have put back all the sluices and all the pumps are now in operational - all of them.
Over the years, we have not only embarked on major overhaul of the drainage and irrigation (D&I) system as we had it. We have been reengineering it, adding new structures. Places where there were never any pumps they now have pumps. New sluices are added and a new relief channel to improve drainage in our country. For example, everyone knows about the construction of the Northern Relief Channel at Hope which has been advanced in 2011. This relief channel will ensure discharge directly into the Atlantic Ocean, reducing the dependency on discharge through the Lama and Maduni sluices. This will reduce risk of flooding in the Mahaica/Mahaicony/Abary (MMA) area. Contracts which total $2.95 billion have been awarded for the construction of the head regulator, relief high level sluice outfall structure, a public road bridge, conservancy supervision services, and the procurement of geotextile and steel sheets pile materials. The National Drainage and Irrigation Authority (NDIA) procured fourteen excavators and earthen work has been, almost thirty per cent completed on the channel. A cumulative sum of $1.8 billion was disbursed at the end of 2011 and in 2012 $1.3 billion will be disbursed to continue the construction of the Northern Relief Channel. In the meantime, short-term contingency work has been executing to improve the drainage in the Mahaica/Mahaicony and Abary areas as was successfully done for the Biabu area in 2011.
Eight fixed drainage pumps would be installed at Windsor Forest, Pine Ground - Mahaicony, Cane Grove, Paradise, Black Bush Polder, Skeldon, Albion and Rose Hall, along with six mobile drainage pumps. Six pumps should be arriving in the country in June and the fixed site pumps should be arriving in the country between November and January. This would drain an additional sixty thousand acres of farm lands. With the operation of an increase number of pumps, and the construction and rehabilitation of key drainage and irrigation structures and access roads, there will be improvements in the discharge capacity and flood performance in vulnerable areas.
At this time, a relief channel at Cottage is being completed. A sluice has already been constructed. In the 1950s when Black Bush Polder and Canal Polder were designed, even then, as part of the construction, there were two additional canals which were supposed to be dug. We are familiar with the A-line at Canal Polder, but on the other side of Canal No. 2, the YR area, there is no relief channel. That was never built from the original design to now. With the increase amount of water to be managed, the construction of that canal is absolutely necessary. That relief channel has now begun to be designed with a pump and sluice system to release water into the Demerara River.
At Black Bush Polder the same thing happens and the water from Johanna has to be diverted into the relief channel, Yakusari main channel. In 2012, finally the relief channel from Johanna out to the Atlantic Ocean will be built, and there are many of the others sluices. I do not want to go into all of the details. Guyana will pursue aggressively a place in the growing biofuel industry.
I believe that the efforts of the Government, for more than a decade, in pursuing a biofuel industry have begun to take shape. Agriculture must not be seen as a producer of food for local consumption or for export. Agriculture in Guyana must be developed beyond food. For example, Guyana has the opportunity to create biomass for the production of biofuel, satisfy needs other than feeding our people and needs that would ensure a sustainable and affordable fuel source. Guyana is already using agricultural products, such as bagasse, to produce energy on a small scale, but now it must embark on a deliberate path to push and to develop biomass to support large-scale bio-energy industry. In 2012, Guyana’s bio- energy policy will be finalised.
A prototype ethanol producing plant, as a pilot, is presently being developed, as we speak, at the Albion Sugar Estate. A Brazilian firm is collaborating with us to develop this plant as part of an IDB technical grant support programme.
Guyana has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Ansa McCal to carry out feasibility studies for a large-scale production enterprise in Guyana. Several other investors have approached Guyana with an expression of interest. We will pursue these opportunities.
Clearly, sugar and rice continue to be major players in the agricultural sector. Sugar is still a critical factor in our success story and it continues to be the single largest contributor to the national GDP. I am in a position to be optimistic when I speak on sugar today. I am in a position to say that sugar is successfully confronting the many challenges it is facing at the global, and at the national level. Much has been said about GuySuCo already, and the budgetary allocation of $4 billion for GuySuCo has generated heated and emotional responses. I am on record as stating that it the right thing to do. I am on record as being unapologetic for the infusion of much needed financial support for GuySuCo. This is the industry which supported Guyana in back times.
The sugar levy was utilised generously to support the Government current expenditure in Guyana for decades. This industry continues to spend about $1.8 billion annually for community drainage, and this industry provide medical services at the cost of $270 million a year for its workers.
The troubles in GuySuCo have been placed by many solely under mismanagement of GuySuCo by it managers and it Board of Directors. We heard that today. No one has sought to analyse the impact of the thirty-six per cent European price cut on the industry and the approximately $8 billion lost per annum impact that this cut caused. No one has acknowledged that the industry also had to cushion the impact of the value of the Euros versus the US dollars. It would be equally dishonest of me if I were to attribute the challenges and the troubles of GuySuCo merely on the European price cut.
I must, at this time, make myself unequivocally clear that if it was not for the workers, both field and factory workers of GuySuCo, this industry would have failed a long time ago. In spite of their concerns and difficulties, the sugar workers have responded because they know that this industry is important to them, to their community and to this country. It is for that reason I stood firm, that no matter what it takes, that the sugar workers must be guaranteed their API payment when they were not being paid by GuySuCo. Sooner, rather than later… I am glad that GuySuCo was able to do so, on its own, on March the 16th.
I also have been working, and I worked with them in the field, with GuySuCo so that field and factory workers can benefit similarly from the agreement of those workers represented by Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU), as the National Association of Agricultural Commercial and Industrial Employees (NAACIE) workers, through the just completed job evaluation. It would be remiss of me if I were not to mention the struggle of management. This industry is presently under the management of young Guyanese professionals. They have worked hard and they have the interest of the industry at heart, no less than anyone of us. They have been subjective to great criticism. Some in this House have been merciless in their condemnation of the young Guyanese managers, but in the face of great challenges they have been able to manage the industry in a manner that places GuySuCo in a good position to overcome the enormous challenges it faced.
In 2011, revenue increased by $6.4 billion and there is a projected increase of $1.2 billion in 2012. This is due to better price negotiations, strategies in our export market and an increase in the value added product to ensure a profitable and competitive industry in the long run.
GuySuCo continues to respond to challenging times. In 2010, the production was two hundred and twenty thousand tons and that increase to two hundred and thirty-seven thousand tons in 2011, and we hope to attain a target of two hundred and fifty thousand tons in 2012, a far cry from the hundred and twenty-nine thousand tons in 1990. It is true that Skeldon factory is still a major concern and there are remedial works to be done, and those will be done this year. Work has begun in the modification of the design of the bagasse feed conveyors, the ploughs and feed chutes for increasing the punt dumper lift weights to three hundred tons canes per hour to increase cane delivery for the replacement of a five-megawatt Wartsilla alternator and the commissioning of a new well at site. We expect that most, if not all the defects, will be remedied by the end of 2012.
The Enmore packaging plant is now working fully and as long as we could supply the sugar it can reach its capacity of forty thousand tons per year.
I heard the Hon. Member Dr. Ramayya and I heard also the Hon. Member Mr. Moses Nagamootoo talked… [Mrs. Lawrence: You have forgotten that you have said that they are your brothers.] They are my brothers and friends… and in fact I heard all the TCTS has been mentioned by the Hon. Member Ramayya and yesterday I heard the Hon. Member Mr. Keith Scott talked about the NIS problems across the country. GuySuCo workers have been subjected to a lot of NIS concerns and those we are now addressing.
In terms of the TCTS, Dr. Ramayya mentioned some numbers, all of those are not accurate. In fact, Skeldon has been going between twelve and twenty. Yes, it reaches twenty sometimes because of wet cane, because of cane left on the field, because of rain, and so on. At Albion, it has gone between 8.7 and 12.1, depending on the weather, and at the other sugar estates. Uitvlugt goes to thirteen, but all the others have been between nine and a half and ten and a half in good weather and up to twelve when there is a bad weather.
We cannot hide in the sand about the equipment that we procured. The Lambidini tractors were procured through normal procurement process. We would have been damned if we do and damned if we do not because the procurement cost was one-third in the bidding process of the others. Had we gone for the others we would have been accused of having put money into our pockets. We went for the lowest bidder and, in fact, those equipment have created problems, but the company has agreed to come at its cost and do the remedial action on those tractors. It is presently doing that. So a lot have been happening with sugar.
Rice, my colleague Mr. Seeraj will speak on it, but a lot…
I know the time is running out and the agriculture diversification programme is going on. I just want to mention, for cattle,… We are self- sufficient for poultry - we produce enough meat; we produce enough table eggs. In the future, we will try to increase our capacity for hatching eggs, but we have a great opportunity, in terms of beef, pork and mutton, because for these, if we attain self-sufficiency, we could also be a major exporter, but there are certain things we have to do.
The veterinary lab is being constructed right now as part of our Agriculture Diversification Programme. The artificial insemination lab will be commissioned shortly and a modern, state-of-the-art abattoir is being built through a public-private partnership. All of these projects will occur this year.
We, in terms of our diversification, have introduced micro financing and this year farmers will be able to access $250 million through a special programme with the Institute of Private Enterprise development (IPED). We have contracted IPED to handle that programme and, as part of that programme, we will be establishing community based packaging and processing plants. And whilst the money will be put up by us, we are going to create a company where the farmers could procure shares through selling their products and obtaining shares so that within three to five years, the farmers will own one hundred per cent of the shares. These are some of the things that we are doing.
In terms of our import of food, we are trying to address this by looking at growing spice. We hope this year that through our programme with pepper, nutmeg, black pepper, ginger and turmeric, we will be able to produce 2,500 tonnes, reducing our importation of these products by 20%. [Mrs Lawrence: Is that Mr. R. Persaud’s PPP - pepper, plantain and pumpkin?] The four P’s (plantain, pumpkin, pepper and pineapple) are still part of the programme.
There are a number of other projects that we are pursuing. Included in this are projects that promote the production of potato and onion, providing our small farmers with opportunities and enabling Guyana to diversify our food products so that we could reduce importation and also increase export.
Last year, we exported more than 11,000 tonnes of fresh vegetables and fruits, and this year we are hoping to exceed exportation through linking our farmers. And in that process, a new Guyana Marketing Corporation will open up its Guyana shop in Georgetown in a month’s time, enabling the farmers to have a market to sell their products. We have established packing plants; we have procured refrigerator trucks; and we are increasing the refrigeration capacity at the Cheddi Jagan International Airport, all in such a way to help our farmers not only to produce food for local consumption but to produce food and products for export.
We have a vision for agriculture in this country, and agriculture we see as a strong vehicle for sustained, economic and social prosperity, moving Guyana to a high, middle-income, developing country by 2020. Agriculture will be a stronger vehicle for wealth generation, for providing entrepreneurs with investment opportunities, for providing employment, for building Guyana’s export portfolio and ensuring a brand “Guyana” that people everywhere recognise and want. Guyana wants to produce and export safe and wholesome food and non-food agricultural products such as biofuel at competitive prices, utilising land, water, marine and other resources and will support commercial agriculture through provision of requisite client-friendly state and technical services.
Guyana’s vision for agriculture 2020 seeks to attain our rich tradition of being a major producer of sugar and rice, reaching and sustaining production of greater than 450,000 tonnes annually for both products, moving towards packaged and processed sugar and ethanol, and packaged and processed rice products rather than export of bulk products. We intend to ensure that we take full advantage of the resources that we have in both our marine and inland fishing. We will establish aquaculture and make honey production an economic opportunity for people in communities across Guyana. And we will expand opportunities for non-food agricultural products. In this regard, we will promote horticulture and biomass development for production of biofuel and specialised crops such as bamboo to support furniture and craft industries. Guyana’s vision for agriculture, 2020, creates opportunities for Guyana’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to grow, to provide boundless opportunities for our people, our youth, our women, indigenous peoples and for local and international entrepreneurs, and will provide a vehicle for sustained, economic and social prosperity. The Government of Guyana is strongly committed to playing a facilitating and a catalyst role in the development of a sound agricultural programme. However, the full realisation of an agro-industrial enterprise for Guyana will depend much on the involvement of an aggressive private sector. This is our vision. This is how we can transform agriculture to continue to play a leading role in our development. This is how we can ensure that brand “Guyana” is secure and wanted. This is how we guarantee that agriculture is a vehicle for sustained economic and social prosperity. We ask that we all provide solidarity for this programme and that we do not speak with both sides of our mouth: one day saying that we need to support the private sector and another day attacking us for working with the private sector. That is not building trust and... [Member: Do not be fooled.] Be careful. Not fooled. Mdm. Deputy Speaker, that is not right. [Mr. B. Williams: She will never call you a fool.] I know. The truth is that we have to, in fact, work together. We need the private sector to come with us. We need to engage the private sector and that is why I promise the Hon. Member that if he wants the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU). You will get it. There is no MoU to give anything. There is a MoU for a feasibility study to be done. [Mr. Greenidge: Why is there secrecy?] There is no secrecy. And, in fact, it is there for you to see.
There is much that we can talk about agriculture. The fact is that Guyana has moved forward. The fact is that agriculture has grown in Guyana in spite of the difficulty. And the fact is long after all of us are gone, sugar will continue to be a success story in this country. We have faith in sugar. We have put our faith in sugar and we will continue to support GuySuCo with all the energy and commitment that we have for the workers, for GuySuCo’s interest and for the interest of the people of this.
Thank you, Mdm. Deputy Speaker. [Applause]
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