– as Minister calls for better policies to address hungerThe movement of labour from the agriculture sector to the oil industry is something that is being closely monitored by the United Nations (UN) Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).FAO representative, Reuben Robertson told a FAO-sponsored workshop on Wednesday that this shift could affect the overall agenda of eliminating hunger and poverty in Guyana.FAO country representative, Reuben Robertson“Let us, through this dialogue, recognise the real challenges to the sector with the coming of oil in 2020. The movement of labour from a highly labour intensive agriculture to more lucrative paying jobs could create shortage of labour for agriculture production in a sector,” Robertson said.The FAO official said the agriculture sector is already plagued with an aging population, low productivity, and one that requires creativity and incentives to stimulate young people to join.In order to reduce the chances of this happening, Robertson said there would be a need for urgent modernisation of the sector to make it more competitive as the demand for food increases. It was noted that the already high food import bill and poverty levels will increase if this is not done.He said, “We have very little time, less than 20 months to strengthen existing systems and to find new approaches to agriculture and rural development in Guyana if we are to fight inequality, overcome poverty, and position the country to achieve the sustainable development goals.”Participants at the opening of the FAO-sponsored workshopIf all of these are done, then it would make way for a competitive and sustainable agriculture in a green state, Robertson added. The FAO representative pointed also to the need for partnerships with universities, businesses and other organisations to improve the local agriculture sector.Nevertheless, Robertson committed to continued partnership with Government on food security. He also gave a commitment to ensure that vulnerable groups, which include, but are not limited to school aged children, are targeted when developing programmes to fight poverty and eliminate hunger.With the impending oil and gas expected to come on stream in 2020, Guyanese will have the opportunity to join this industry at various levels. There are already talks from Government that the sector could create jobs for as many Guyanese as possible from all administrative regions.Meanwhile, in presenting the feature address, Agriculture Minister Noel Holder highlighted the role agriculture plays in the fight against poverty and food and nutrition insecurities.According to the Minister, the contributions of the sector can be easily undermined by both obvious and less visible disasters, with varying levels of damage and loss to all its sub-sectors.“As such, an inclusive development approach is necessary in realising the potential for agricultural advancement in the hinterland regions, and since taking office in 2015 this Administration has placed great focus on exploiting the potential of those regions,” the Minister said.On the issue of food security, the Agriculture Minister reiterated the call for better policies to address the increasing incidences of hunger in Latin America, pointing to the fact that while availability of food is not a cause for concern within the region, access however, remains a challenge.He also reminded that with the assistance of the FAO, his Ministry has developed and recently revised the National Food and Nutrition Security Strategy and Action Plan.The Agriculture Ministry has been working with a number of international agencies to target vulnerable groups in its efforts to achieve all of the FAO’s Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.Meanwhile, Permanent Secretary of the Education Ministry, Vibert Welch, who also addressed the gathering, said there is a huge link between hunger and educational development, noting that some of the policies implemented by the Education Ministry are aimed at addressing this gap.“Given the fact that studies have shown that children who are properly fed learn better, the Ministry over the years has developed and implemented several programmes to ensure children have balanced meals at school,” Welch said, while highlighting some of them including the ‘Hot Meals’ programme.The workshop was hosted in preparation of the 35th FAO Regional Conference of Latin America and the Caribbean. The national dialogue for the upcoming event garnered the inputs from stakeholders on regional issues which are scheduled for March 5 to 8 in Jamaica.