…says proper strategy needed for ventureGovernment’s push to have agriculture extended to the hinterland region is something that should be carefully examined, as it may not be an economical undertaking, Opposition Member of Parliament (MP) and executive of the Guyana Rice Producers Association (GRPA), Dharamkumar Seeraj has said. Seeraj, who has a wealth of experience as an agriculturalist and manager, told Guyana Times on Monday that the efforts of Government might not be well thought-out, as they do not take into account the possibility of having value for money, when it comes to expanding agriculture in the interior region.The MP said, in any economy, especially in an agricultural economy, there were issues of resource scarcity and resource availability and given that Guyana was faced with a situation of resource constraints, Government needed to prioritise. In prioritising, he said, Government should also look at what can be exported.According to Seeraj, in doing so, the situation on the ground has to be carefully examined and if the authorities are looking to produce crops, the aim should be to look at what was needed to be competitive.In this case, Seeraj pointed out that good soil types, good crop handling practices, good packaging are all imperative. However, efficiency, cost and transportation are also important factors that should be considered.While Guyana is blessed with large expanses of land, Seeraj noted that only a small portion of that area was fertile. The majority of Guyana’s land is made up of hills, sandy areas and savannahs.“Of course, if you have unrestricted amount of money, you can do anything, anywhere,” Seeraj said. In cases where there is a large amount of capital, planting can be done even in places where there is no soil.Seeraj, therefore, concluded that while Government has been talking about extending the frontier and going further south to expand agriculture, that will come with a tremendous cost. “What he (Minister) has to do is to concentrate on the areas where the soil is fertile. Fix whatever little problem there is, give incentive to the farmers so that they can increase production, and bring your cost down. Not to go on a wild goose chase and try to plant something in soils that are not fertile.”Fertiliser costIf this is done, the GRPA General Secretary told his publication that it would cost the Government to spend a huge sum on fertilisers. “And then, when you plant it there, where will you sell it? The interior have to truck fertiliser hundreds of miles to go in those areas and if you’re successful, you’ll have to truck your produce hundreds of miles now, to bring them back to a point of export,” he pointed out.Seeraj said too because the population in the hinterland was relatively small when compared to the coast’s, whatever agricultural activity the residents there were engaged in, they would have to target an export market. Some important questions that need to be answered, Seeraj said, include: “Who you’re targeting to buy? Is it the local people? Or is it for export? If it’s the local people, you have a few hundred people living in those villages. The Rupununi probably is the most highly populated interior region. It is, by far, the largest geographically speaking. And it barely got about 7000 people.”Moco Moco ProjectAccording to Seeraj, it is sometimes cheaper to truck the produce into the interior from the coast than to actually grow crops in the hinterland. Speaking about his experience of leading the Moco Moco Project for upland rice cultivation, where Government made huge investments in, he said it turned out to be cheaper to take rice into the hinterland than to actually grow it there.Neglecting coastal areasThe Opposition MP argued, therefore, that it would be a waste of investment to enhance agriculture and agro-processing there at the cost of neglecting the coastal area, where agriculture is more competitive, the soil is much more fertile, the consuming public is closer as well as a port of export which would allow Guyana to target the Caribbean, for instance, and further afield.During the launch of Agriculture Month, which was observed under the theme, “Food Security and Hinterland Development: Our National Priority”, Agriculture Minister Noel Holder said the theme reflected the commitment to Government’s vision of hinterland development and to encourage a whole food-system approach to food security.“Hinterland development in 2017-2018 and beyond will focus on improved infrastructure, the development of agricultural demonstration stations and research to enhance hinterland agriculture and help provide essential knowledge and evidence to farmers, food producers, retailers and consumers,” Holder had said.With efforts to enhance the rate of integration between the coast and the interior and to increase access to the hinterland resources, the Minister said his office has been working to have Agricultural Demonstration Stations in each of the main eco-zones of Guyana.