Guyana seeks help to pursue digital agriculture

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Guyana is seeking the help of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) to pursue digital agriculture.

“…harnessing the rapid growth of the internet and associated digital technologies such as mobile phones, soil testing kits, digital planting, and harvesting equipment,  would be critical in helping farmers to obtain the information they need in making farm management decisions and promoting transformative agricultural development,” Madanlall Ramraj, Director General of the Ministry of Agriculture told the FAO Regional Conference for Latin America and the Caribbean on Wednesday.

He said there is a need for specialized staff at the level of the ministry in agrotechnological areas that will be able to train farmers. Further, he said there is a need for consideration of incentives for farmers to access digital tools.

Mr Ramraj noted that agriculture sustains the majority of rural livelihoods in Guyana but the agri-food system lags in comparison to the other sectors in adopting digitalization.

He noted that investing in digital technologies tends to be knowledge-intensive and expensive and come with operational risks and the need for continued monitoring and updating that are often very demanding for traditional small farmers.

Additionally, Ramraj noted that many agricultural regions in Guyana are remote and accessibility is difficult.

There are also challenges of e-infrastructure and connectivity, he stated, with a 2017 ICT Development Index showing that approximately 34% of Guyanese have access to the internet.

“This is far below the regional average,” Ramraj stated.

But he said the government intends to change this, pointing out that the telecommunications sector was recently liberalized.

“This will allow for faster internet, more efficient, less costly, and better bandwidth.

“In anticipation of this, it is important to start preparing rural area farmers, especially youth, to use digital technologies that have been developed for increasing agriculture productivity,” Ramraj stated.

He said farmers need accurate local weather forecasts, advice on agricultural practices, input use, including the use of agricultural tools with digital technologies embedded in them, and real-time information about prices and market logistics.

“Access to digital tools and updated production and market information will allow farmers to be more productive and competitive.

“While we have some achievements in these areas, we need to establish outreach programs that include more of these technologies. This requires training of agricultural technology specialists in these technologies and promoting their availability through a joint effort with the private sector,” Ramraj noted.

Recognizing that ICTs can be highly complex and require proper training in its operation and maintenance, Ramraj requested that the FAO expands their programs in the region in these areas.

“We, therefore, request greater assistance from the FAO and other development partners to strengthen our technical capacities to develop innovative and digital policy agendas, increase usage of digital and innovative agriculture practices for access to extension services, farmers and agro-processors, improving the marketing of outputs, and facilitating logistics.,” he stated.

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