On Saturday, December 10, Suriname president Chan Santokhi introduced a support group. It must address challenges within that country's agricultural sector, with a view to growing healthy crops that meet international export standards. That is vital, says Mahinder Kalpoe, who, along with his family, grows cassava, fruit, and vegetables in Suriname. "There are currently almost no export opportunities, so farmers earn nothing from that."
According to the Suriname Communication Service, the task force must ensure that agriculture can be done effectively and, most especially, environmentally friendly. Vijay Kalpoe is one of the many land tenants on the Uitkijk plantation in Suriname. He and his cousins, who live in the Netherlands, grow all kinds of fruit and vegetables on that modest farm. "It is still a young project, but we're trying to get to the point of working with long-term crops as much as possible. We're investing in the future," cousin Mahinder says.
This family grows vegetables like cucumber and bok choy and fruits like watermelon, papaya, and bananas. "The papayas have begun giving good production, and we've started harvesting the bananas. These look fantastic and, for now, are for own consumption and the local market."
Mahinder and his family dream of eventually partnering with overseas traders. "High growing costs and limited export opportunities make it difficult for Surinamese growers, but we want to keep expanding," he explains.
"Suriname has a low population, so a surplus of seasonal produce quickly develops on the local market at certain times of the year. Now that cultivation costs have risen so sharply, it's almost impossible for farmers to earn a living, which is, of course, very demotivating. Exports to, say, the Netherlands, is paramount to realizing better prices so that Surinamese farmers also benefit."
"Doing something like preserving the products is another option. Then you could store them for longer or transport them by sea freight, letting us compete on the international market. However, for this and to produce crops that meet international standards, education is needed. These are fairly small things but need government regulation to achieve a place in the global market," Mahinder continues.
The government seems to now be supporting this opinion. Preshand Baldew, who is leading the support group told the Suriname Communication Service that more than 10 million Surinamese dollars of funding is available to invest in the sector. "We need a good plan of action," he says, adding that a chain approach is critical.
The task force will bring together growers, agro-processors, exporters, and all other relevant players to maximize export opportunities. Baldew notes that cassava, fruit, and vegetables are in high demand in the region. "We need to make work of that."
To stimulate the sector, the Suriname Land Policy and Forestry Ministry has made land available to the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, and Fisheries. Farmers can also access the National Agribusiness Development Fund. "It's a nice first step. Agricultural policy in Suriname has long been neglected. Not anymore. We have the ideas, now we just need the rest," Mahinder concludes.
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