The recent “Onverwagt Declaration” will inspire West Berbicans to seize the opportunities of this state-sponsored program

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Dear Editor,

“The country air does indeed clear the mind and invigorate the body” Bridgerton S2:E3. As a West Berbician, I was delighted to read the content of your March 28 online lead article captioned “President launches major black-bellied sheep project – says Region 5 will become capital of ‘breeding”. I have often stated that the residents of the west coast of Berbice (Abary to Ithaca), taken as a movement of several villages, are just about the hardest working, most resilient, courteous, most respectful, community spirit and committed agriculture. They also own and/or have access to large tracts of arable ancestral land, from the crown dam to the sea shore; available for productive use without major infrastructure investment. I am also encouraged by the announcement because, when properly implemented, the result would be a strident signal, illuminating a way to satisfy my craving for winds of economic and social growth. It would reveal a starter flag carrying relief for those chomping at the bit, and an exchange for appreciative arousal of their appetite to move forward at a blistering pace of development. Therefore, the land that time seemed to have forgotten could be transformed into a land of enduring prosperity.

Ironically, although they have responded with dedication to the political initiatives of successive governments aimed at bettering citizens since pre-independence, the sad unhappy reality of West Berbicans is littered with the prospect of unbearable underemployment. This disease led to a rapid decline in self-generated income opportunities, which triggered large-scale migration in search of employment, education and vocational training. To illustrate further, allow me to draw attention to some historical developments and societal revelations. The Demerara-Berbice public rail system was finally dismantled in 1972. In continuation of Guyana’s “Feed the Nation by 1976” program, farmers in West Berbice were encouraged to cultivate land and establish farms with crops not permanent on the railway embankment. Several farms prospered as a result. Simultaneously, a political decision was made to provide interim land leases to the descendants of village owners to cultivate Crown land at the second and third depths down to the River Abary, some land averaging hundreds of acres in each designated village. For example, at Pln. Ayr No. 40 Village, the available area was close to 500. The cooperative model was the vehicle chosen to realize this aspiration.

As a result, Producer-type (communal) rice cooperatives were quickly established in several villages. Between 1973 and the end of the decade, new companies were registered in Villages No. 3, No. 5, No. 8, No. 9, No. 28, Lichfield, No. 40, Seafield (No. 42) and El Dorado. These supplemented the land-type (individual holding) rice cooperatives previously recorded at Hope and Experiment, Bath Settle-ment, Hopetown Land later Hopetown Multipurpose, thus stimulating a relatively short life (land revolution) which benefited to thousands of people and improved village economies. Other types of cooperatives have been introduced or revitalized to support the “feeding” trust. They included cooperatives of machinery, pigs and other livestock. When a ban was imposed on the importation of onions, the people of Bath Settlement converted their backyard land space into large revenue shallot gardens which collectively transferred the fortunes of the village and neighboring communities. In all these initiatives, the Berbicans of the West have applied themselves without reserve with great enthusiasm.

Some of the factors contributing to a generational litany of disturbing woes include: the abandonment after construction of the planned social foundations associated with the Mahaica Mahaicony Abary-Agricultural Development Authority (MMA-ADA) project (which a national leader says will be dug even by our fingernails) – this thwarted the expected boom in the adoption of agriculture. Additionally, downscaling of the sugar industry; closure of Guyana Marketing Corporation and GAIBANK; curtailment of the Mahaicony Abary Rice Development Program (MARDS); The decline of thriving co-operative societies, community development projects and cottage industries has led several communities in the West Berbice agricultural base sub-region to go into “marking the times” mode. This black-bellied sheep production plan is not the first large-scale breeding project that has reportedly been considered for West Berbice. I remember in the mid-1970s the state, with the support of the donor community, sponsored a cooperative pig breeding unit in the back of the village of Hopetown. This was a pilot project to be replicated by other regions to provide inputs to Farm, East Bank Demerara’s ham and bacon factory.

Editor, Guyana is currently meandering through prosperous and uncharted oil waters. Few remnants of the “glory days” of agriculture are evident in rural communities. Many studies, on which I will not expand here, have sought to provide answers to the failure of take-off. Some even put forward a theory that the government at the time had a policy of racial domination of one ethnic group over others (sound familiar?) which led to this sad state of affairs. Many proponents of this line of reasoning have chosen to gloss over the fact that Guyana faced all the downsides of an international oil crisis that triggered massive economic hardship; and also the reality that our fledgling nation was brutally caught in a cold war between East and West. I believe that the indomitable industrious spirit of West Berbicans will inspire them to enthusiastically seize the limitless opportunities that will result from a state-sponsored development program designed to establish agricultural projects with appropriate linkages to an agro complex -industrial; thus propelling Region Cinq to become the agricultural capital of Guyana. Of course, once lessons learned from previous stillborn and unsustainable agricultural development efforts are taken into account. Editor, it is in the context of the above, I would like to applaud the recent “Onverwagt Statement”.

Sincerely,
Derrick Cummings

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