Guyana- Whatever happened to our ‘Buy Local’ Campaign – By Sase Singh


 IN 1969, then Prime Minister Forbes Burnham started an aggressive campaign to persuade Guyanese to “buy locally produced products.” But even before that, the first national development plan coined in 1953 under Premier Cheddi Jagan also advocated strongly for this agenda. Both leaders, in their own time, appealed to the people’s patriotic pride to drive the local economy, rather than depend on unnecessary imports.

Of course, after the split, a proactive PPP propaganda campaign did severe damage to this programme in the 1970s and 1980s. As things got hard in the 1980s, the persuasive forces moved from voluntary to mandatory (the famous ban), and this played right into the PPP propaganda machinery, and they (the PPP) milked this situation to their maximum benefit. 

So while people craved the low-grade yellow split peas and the tins of sardines from foreign lands, one has to recognize that importing those products was just pure ignorance. The wider world is very accustomed to even better and more nutritious kinds of “dhals”, lentils and beans, all of which can be grown in Guyana. Actually, those same black eye peas and pigeon peas that used to grow commercially in Guyana, which today we are importing, have scientifically been found to be even more nutritious than the low-grade yellow split peas.  Thus one is left to wonder why the majority of people in Guyana rejected the buy local programme in the 1980s to the detriment of the economy. It looks like all politics to me.

It is time Guyana reopens, in a big way, its “be local, buy local” campaign, which should be aimed at encouraging our people to use our land to maximize our wealth. The basis of this thesis is first to maximize the economic power of the village economy, but also to socially empower our people to “fish for themselves.”

But such a programme will never be successful until and unless the Ministry of Agriculture throws its full weight behind the venture. It is time for us to have an agrarian revolution, to distribute lands to the landless. We can start by offering lands to those same extension officers in the Ministry of Agriculture with the caveat that their land will become farmers’ field schools and demonstration plots. With real skin in the game and real rewards for them, there will be enough incentives to make this a huge success.

What is so wrong if each certified extension officer in the regions, the NAREI field staff, and all final year agriculture students at UG and GSA are given, to cultivate, two (2) acres of land as close as possible to their home, and they use the latest kinds of technology and their knowledge as a showcase of how it can be done using science? This should be called the “agriculture science in action” project.

This will do two things. One: it will force farmers who were previously reluctant to use science to now observe how science can cut their cost of production compared to their original systems that are based on customs and traditions. The business of agriculture will be taught in these farmers’ field schools.

Secondly: it will serve as a source of additional legitimate income for these government officers.

But what is more important is that these informed minds will be able to add value to their raw produce — be it better marketing, better packaging, even small scale agro-processing, all integrated into their base plot to lift all the “agricultural boats (farms)” of Guyana with science and knowledge.

“Buy local” is not only a feel-good process, but can be a serious generator of economic growth at the local level. What researchers have found in locations such as the State of Utah in the United States is that there is a profound positive economic impact in keeping one’s money in one’s local towns. Why not use this process to create across Guyana a renaissance of the village economy, which can then be scaled up to tap into the CARICOM markets?

The New Economic Foundation, based in London, found that twice the money stays locally when people buy local rather than import products. In basic economics, that means twice the money is flowing in the local economy, working its way to create additional local wealth as the economic wheels turn.

When national institutions like the Guyana Police Force choose to feed the President imported grapes and apples at their Christmas breakfast, rather than those delicious oranges from Hog Island and most tasty bananas from Aliki on the Essequibo River, one can see we are in financial trouble. One commentator said money is like blood; it needs to move constantly at the local level to be able to add value to the local economy.

When we create the economic conditions that make it cheaper to import pigeon peas in tins, then we have sealed our own future. In exchange for every container of food shipped into a food secure nation like Guyana, we are shipping out “wads and wads” of US dollars. If one were to look at the state of the International Reserves, one would be told a sad story indeed. Today, for the first time in 5 years, the reserves have fallen below US$600 million, and they are still diving!

Every time we buy imported food, we have to recognize that it is another local farmer who is “biting the dust” in good old Guyana. The Ministry of Agriculture has the power to change all of this and make a difference, but it requires relevant and appropriate public policies. It requires greater activism and greater leadership around this issue.

What are we waiting for?

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  • De castro  On 01/11/2016 at 4:00 am

    Hilarious😀…it’s 2016 😳

    Consumers will buy local only if…
    1. Better quality
    2. Better pric
    3. More readily available

    In that order…..

    Guyana must be competitive internally/internationally

    Banning or subsidies is ‘history’
    Nonsensical down right ‘stupid’

    Compete or remain ‘stagnant’ die …🤑🤑economically…right political decisions way forward.

    Wake up Guyana 😳
    Wake up Guyanese 😳

  • Albert  On 01/11/2016 at 4:09 pm

    Sase I could have written pages on this topic years back.
    -For one thing there are some cultural problems. Do we grow wheat for flour?No. WE have an abundance of rice but we import large quantities of flour because people like me would riot if we could not get roti bake, bread or pastries.
    -Many Guyanese women don’t cook since Kentucky fry and others open in Guyana….why raise chicken when for a short walk you could get it ready cooked.
    – what I observe is that there is need for packaging and processing fruits and vegetables and exporting to tourist islands where there is a need but no land to grow them.
    -In summary Guyanese have become so accustomed to foreign tastes……..readily available in the stores, its extremely difficult to change them..

  • demerwater  On 01/13/2016 at 10:08 am

    I have the following thoughts to contribute.
    1. B.G. had the most effective Agricultural Extension Service in the British West Indies. The CDC, United Nations, UWI and similar authorities have attested to that. But that was more than fifty years ago. Times must have changed. I cannot imagine otherwise. Hopefully, for the better. With a University as a foundation Institution it has to be so. Or else something is seriously wrong – and Mr. Gavin Bonston Kennard C.B.E., C.C.H., is restless in his final resting place.
    I know that the “agriculture science in action” idea existed as the “Demonstration Farm” in Leguan, Wakenaam and at Aishalton in the south Rupununi. Again more than 60 years ago.
    2. The Feed, Clothe and House ourselves (FCH) was one of the best programs of a past PNC Government; and probably one of the better ideas of Mr. Burnham – if indeed he was the originator. The present state of animus against President Obama reminds me of a similar sentiment against President Burnham’s FCH program so many years ago.
    3. An African Nation decided to start its own sugar industry for the many economic benefits. A sugar industry requires a heavy commitment of capital, land and time. Imagine the consternation when the population refused to buy the locally produced product – because the sugar was brown. They had been accustomed to the imported white crystals!
    4. “Parika Banana”!!! That characteristic flavor and fruit is indelibly coupled in my memory with Parika stelling and its long walk to the waiting train. I have often fantasized, a small aircraft laden with the fruit, landing at Miami or New York; and all of its cargo sold and enjoyably consumed in the US within 24 hours of its harvest in Guyana! Sadly, I am not an entrepreneur.
    5. There was the Other Crops Division of GUYSUCO. We grew – from seed to a marketable product – black eye peas at Albion and beautiful cucumbers on a ‘ridge and furrow’ field layout at Wales.
    It has been done. It can be done – better – in this day and age.

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