As Guyana plays its part in achieving CARICOM’s goal of reducing 25 per cent of the Caribbean’s food imports by 2025, the country is turning to climate-smart agriculture techniques as a means of sustainably increasing food production.
But the country’s strategy to boost food security isn’t just about producing more of its main crops like rice and sugar.
A substantial portion of the country’s food import bill is made up by non-traditional crops – like berries, broccoli, cauliflower, and carrots – which the country is now making a push to produce on its own.
Growing demand for “non-traditional” crops in Guyana
Data provided by Guyana’s President, Dr Irfaan Ali, shows that the country spent an estimated GYD $6 billion (US $28 million) to import broccoli, cauliflower, and carrots, from 2018 – 2020.
To keep up with the demand for these crops, and other crops that are not traditionally grown in the country, climate-smart farming techniques like shade houses and hydroponics farms are being used.
These methods help farmers to manage the temperature the crops are exposed to, and the soil type they are grown in.
Ravindra Singh, a Product Development Agronomist at Caribbean Chemicals, explained that such newer technologies help to boost agricultural output in light of increasingly worrisome conditions like increased heat.
Speaking at the third regional Agri-Investment Forum and Expo which was held at the Arthur Chung Conference Centre in Georgetown, Guyana, Singh added that he has seen first-hand the benefits of hydroponics which includes its maximisation of space.
Government invests in climate-smart agriculture initiatives
In January 2022, Guyana’s Government launched a shade house pilot project at its National Agricultural Research and Extension Institute (NAREI) Mon Repos, East Coast Demerara, site.
The entire shade house farm is ten acres and there are currently 54 shade houses which each measure 90 by 40 feet.
Crops grown on the farm include cauliflower, carrots, kale, broccoli, celery, mint, parsley and peppers (six varieties).
These shade houses and hydroponics farms are particularly necessary given the conditions for growing these crops aren’t prevalent in Guyana.
In October 2023, President Ali visited the site and described the venture as an “excellent” one.
He also remarked that about 10 times the land space would have been required, had the crops been grown on land traditionally.
President Ali added, “And you don’t even know you’re on a farm that’s producing close to 25 tonnes of food.”
Chief Executive Officer of One Guyana Agriculture Inc, Teesha Mangra, has reported that all of the food produced at the shade house pilot farm have been used.
Mangra explained, “All (the crops) went to the market. We don’t have surpluses, our second-grade (crops) are agro-processed and we also have market days.”
Today, the Government continues to utilise NAREI to introduce new crops – like red onions and berries – to determine how viable it is to grow them in Guyana.
But the project isn’t only being piloted at NAREI’s Mon Repos location.
There are pilot projects all across Guyana and 317 shade house projects in schools too.
Guyana has also offered shade house support to other countries in the region including Barbados, Grenada, and Trinidad and Tobago.
Expanding hydroponics in Guyana
At the third regional Agri-Investment Forum and Expo in October 2023, ExxonMobil, Hess, and CNOOC, announced that they were providing US$4.5 million to create new hydroponics farms for leafy vegetables in country’s Regions Two, Five and 10.
The three companies are co-ventures in Guyana’s offshore Stabroek Block.
At the launch of the hydroponics project, President Ali said about 300 young people will be recruited for the project and their produce will be sold directly to the six new major hotels under construction in Guyana.
There have also been calls for other private investors to develop shade houses and hydroponics farms in Guyana, particularly in areas where there is abundant land like those areas along the Linden/Soesdyke Highway.
The future of climate-smart agriculture in Guyana
At the 2023 Agri-Investment Forum, President Ali announced several new ventures to benefit both local and regional farmers.
Among these ventures are a “situation room” to provide farmers, and other food and agriculture stakeholders, with access to key, real-time data that would inform their farming activities.
In collaboration with the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), the country will also develop a new Centre of Excellence to expose young people to more agriculture and entrepreneurial studies in modernised facilities.
At a 2023 World Food Day Forum, Guyana’s Agriculture Minister, Zulfikar Mustapha, also shared that the government is increasing its efforts to help farmers better manage water supplies in light of increasing drier spells in the last several years.
To do this, Mustapha said a new “drip irrigation system” is being rolled out to prevent water loss and deliver water directly to plants’ roots.
NAREI and the National Drainage and Irrigation Authority (NDIA) have also been tasked with identifying other ways to improve water management to counter dry spells and, on the flip side, flooding.
With these strategies, Guyana hopes to demonstrate how it can employ climate-smart agricultural techniques to achieve its goal of replacing food imports with food grown locally.