Spotlight on Guyana’s Agriculture Industry – What You Need to Know

Spotlight on Guyana’s Agriculture Industry – What You Need to Know

The Guyana Bank for Trade and Industry (GBTI) based in Georgetown has achieved a prominent place among the Caribbean’s leading financial institutions. The bank puts its focus on programs that help customers—and the country’s overall economy—to stay productive and achieve their financial goals.

GBTI has established itself as a strong supporter of the country’s agriculture industry. The bank is, in fact, the largest lender to this segment of the economy. GBTI’s many business lending opportunities include corporate and manufacturing loans as well as agricultural loans designed to help farmers increase cultivation, enhance production facilities and equipment, and build out their independent business structures. 

The types of agricultural loans available cover livestock and poultry farming, shrimp farming and other aquaculture sectors, cane farming, and cash crops. The bank also offers a special type of rice loan created to address the needs of that market. Here’s what you need to know about agriculture in Guyana:

It is a major regional exporter.

Guyana’s current agricultural goals include continuing its development as a “breadbasket of the Caribbean.” It maintains a strong performance in terms of exports to the United States and to its fellow Caribbean countries. 

rice

For example, as one of the only two rice-exporting nations in the Caribbean Forum, it supplies large amounts of the staple crop to Jamaica as well as Trinidad and Tobago. Additionally, the presence of a large Guyanese expat community in nations such as Antigua translates into a strong market for crops like watermelon and pumpkin, and for the country’s pepper sauce. This distinctive sauce, popular throughout the region, is usually made from wiri wiri peppers (also called cherry peppers). 

It once relied on slave labor.

The history of Guyana’s land use and its agricultural sector is marked by its transition from a colonialist to a modern economy. The original European settlers were the Dutch, who in the 1600s built canals and dikes similar to those in the Netherlands. Much of this infrastructure survived into the 1990s.

The Dutch West India Company also subdivided the land into large tracts that settlers then expanded inward while clearing swamplands. The sugar plantations that became the backbone of the country’s economy were established at this time. By the year 1800, close to 400 sugar estates had grown up along the seacoast. 

In 1814, the Netherlands ceded Guyana to the United Kingdom. The nation continued a similar type of plantation organization and continued to exploit the labor of people who were enslaved. After emancipation in 1838, almost all former slaves fled the plantations. Some purchased plantations for themselves, but lacked the working capital needed to sustain the enterprise. Most ended up practicing subsistence farming.

Its agricultural industry was privatized in the late 1990s.

European plantation owners began bringing large numbers of East Indian indentured laborers into the colony to work the plantations. After completing their terms of indenture, many stayed on in Guyana as independent rice farmers. 

The country was administered as a colony of the United Kingdom until 1953, when it entered into home rule. Until the 1950s, a plantation type of economy continued to be the significant pattern for agricultural development in Guyana. And for decades after the country achieved independence from the UK in 1966, its economy remained dependent on mining and agriculture—particularly on the production of bauxite and sugarcane—produced under a similar economic structure. 

A privatization program reorganized the economy in the 1990s. Guyana had previously managed about four-fifths of its agricultural production under a nationalized system. The early years of the 21st century were characterized by the steady flow of foreign investment into the country’s agriculture industry.

It is due for an infrastructure overhaul and other modernization efforts.

Today, Guyana requires increased investment and development in its agriculture-supporting infrastructure. The existing system of dikes and dams along the coastal plain, where most of the arable farmlands are situated, is long overdue for an upgrade. This is estimated to become a major upcoming expense on the country’s balance sheets.

Additionally, the country will need to pay increasing attention to diversifying its crops, building up an enhanced value chain, and strengthening connections between farmers and markets. Beyond the below-sea level coastal agricultural lands, Guyana’s interior consists of a large hinterland forest that stands on untillable white sands and a highland savanna that is well-adapted to ranching. 

It produces a variety of plant-based crops.

Sugar and rice have historically been the country’s main crops—sugar largely for export, and rice often largely for domestic consumption. However, production of these crops began decreasing after the country attained independence. Regardless, Guyana is still a leader among Caribbean nations in terms of sugarcane production.

sugarcane

Other cash crops cultivated extensively in Guyana include cocoa, bananas, vegetables, citrus, coffee, coconut, and tobacco. All of these products have also undergone periods of low and high demand cycles. In addition to rice, food crops for domestic use include corn and cassava. 

It also produces a variety of seafood.

The country is a major exporter of shrimp. In the past decade, its shrimp and prawn harvest has become a strong presence in global markets. The seafood industry as a whole has become a breakout star among Guyana’s exports, with well over half the nation’s catch ending up on foreign plates in recent years.

A report from early 2018 showed seafood in third place in terms of its contribution to Guyana’s gross domestic product, topped only by gold and bauxite. The fishing industry supports about 15,000 jobs.

It is also home to many small family farms.

In addition to its corporate agricultural sector, Guyana is home to many small farmers along the coast. These family farms continue to engage in farming and livestock-raising, particularly of chickens and smaller animals. Typically, a family eats what it raises and sells any surplus to add to its income. Peasant farmers’ staple crops include rice, tomatoes, yams, peppers, and legumes.

Business loans targeted to a range of agricultural enterprises are available through GBTI’s lending program. More information can be found at GBTIBank.com.