By Shikema Dey
Cognisant of the fact that the use of technology can essentially transform local agriculture systems in the Caribbean, President Dr. Irfaan Ali underscored the need for a “paradigm shift” in the attitudes towards its use, especially by traditional farmers.
“Many farmers prefer the traditional way of doing things and are averse to employing new technologies [but] this attitude will have to change so that technology is seen as a friend rather than as a foe,” the Head of State said in his main address at the opening of the ‘2021 Caribbean AgTech Investment Summit’ on Tuesday.
There, Dr. Ali pointed out that the pandemic has brought to the fore, the importance of technology in the agriculture sector, as touted by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).
The FAO has long noted that new technologies would be needed to address water scarcity, improve crop management, reduce yield gaps and costs, and improve harvesting and plant breeding in Caribbean nations with much of these technologies being improved with each passing year.
In Guyana, the situation is no different.
President Ali highlighted that Guyana has been working closely with its multilateral and bilateral partners to improve the country’s Information and Communications Technology (ICT) infrastructure.
And further, he pointed to the Guyana ICT Master Plan, geared towards propelling the country into a modern and competitive country through the use of ICT.
“Agriculture requires real-time information about prices and market logistics, accurate weather forecasts, timely advice on agricultural practices, pest and disease identification and management, input use and the risk of natural disasters.
“Digital technologies, including those embedded in drones, hold much potential for providing such valuable data and information,” the President noted.
But for that to happen, stakeholders have to become more open to accepting new technologies and this, according to President Ali, often requires a long process of sensitisation.
“As such, the diffusion of technologies and equipping agricultural stakeholders with the know-how to utilise them is often not achievable overnight.
“Such an undertaking also requires significant investments to convince stakeholders of the benefits to be derived from the use of such technologies in agriculture,” he continued.
The cost challenge
The adoption of new agricultural technologies also comes with another challenge – the cost.
The Head of State pointed out that most of the technologies are developed overseas, and their acquisition is often costly.
And even when the technology is accessible, he said the acquiring entity is still dependent on the rights-holder for back-up support and maintenance, presenting another deterrent, especially to small farmers.
“Technology transfer also is not often cheap, and for small farmers, the high costs can act as a disincentive to the use of technology,” he said.
As such, the President underscored too the need for agricultural technology to be appropriate and affordable as many small farmers may not be able to afford drones and other capital-intensive technologies that can be adapted to help improve land preparation and cultivation and to reduce post-harvest loss.
His sentiments were supported by the Executive Director, Caribbean Export Development Agency, Deodat Maharaj, who also delivered remarks at the Summit.
Maharaj pointed out too that the agriculture and agro-processing sector is a priority, but is one where accessible funding is seen as a major stumbling block in the region.
“The sector needs investors to come in a support its ambitions and allow it to play a vital, societal and economical role,” the Executive Director underscored.
“There remains an exhibit need for investment in the sector, to ensure to it survives in a sustainable and resilient manner,” he added.
Strides being made
Meanwhile, locally, President Ali pointed out that strides have been made to push AgTech in Guyana’s agriculture sector.
The Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) has invested in drones equipped with multi-spectrum cameras and computer software, to enable the application of chemicals with ease and efficiency.
This is expected to yield increases in sugar recoveries, production, and productivity while reducing downtime and cost.
At the Guyana Rice Development Board (GRDB), the President said that work is being done with the FAO on a digital enhancement programme on a rice production monitoring system, which will improve the collection of production field data, such as sowing, harvesting, yield, and loss, and allowing for improved and more reliable data analyses.
And further, he pointed out that the National Drainage and Irrigation Authority (NDIA) will continue to integrate the use of geospatial technology into their data collection and monitoring processes.
This can assist in the monitoring of changes in crop and livestock practices, plant health, soil type, soil fertility and irrigation.
Also, the Head of State said that rehabilitation works on the biotechnology laboratory at the National Agricultural Research and Extension Institute (NAREI) are being done in an effort for crop improvement and enhancing crop diversity.
The AgTech Summit, which runs until October 7, will explore opportunities for agricultural technology companies in the Caribbean.