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o-operative Republic of Guyana
religions: Christianity, Hinduism, Islam
the main economic activity, provides nearly half
the total value of exports and a large part of
domestic food needs. Because the narrow strip of
rich, alluvial soil along the coast lies in part
below the high-tide mark of the sea and rivers,
and because of heavy seasonal rainfall,
agricultural expansion requires heavy
expenditures for flood control, drainage, and
irrigation. About 2.5% of the land is used for
temporary and permanent crop production.
Guyana has two sugarcane harvests per year, and
there are currently eight sugar mills in
operation. About 90% of all cane is grown on
land owned or leased by Guysuco, the
governmentowned sugar monopoly. Guysuco is
managed under contract by the British firm
Booker Tate. Independent farmers contribute only
about 8% to total cane production. Guyana is not
an efficient producer of sugar and cannot
compete on the world market; it depends on
preferential export markets for its sugar trade.
Sugar production in 1999 was 3,000,000 tons, up
from the 395,000 tons produced in 1971; sugar
accounted for 29% of exports in 1980 and about
22% in 2001. Rice production in 1999 (600,000
tons) has more than doubled since 1991.
Agricultural exports in 2001 totaled US $171.7
million. Other crops, grown for domestic
consumption, include bananas, citrus, cassava,
Guyana boasts a remarkably rich ecology, but also has one of South America's poorest economies.
Tropical rainforests - filled with distinctive plants and trees, teeming with
exotic birds, insects and mammals - are a big draw for eco-tourists. But political troubles, ethnic tension and economic mismanagement have left the former British colony with serious economic problems.
A third of its population is descended from African slaves, imported by the Dutch to work on sugar plantations. Around half are the descendants of indentured Indian agricultural workers brought in by the British after slavery was abolished.
Persistent tension between these two groups has fuelled political instability and is reflected in hostility between the two main parties, which are ethnically-based.
Until the 1990s more than 80% of Guyana's industries were state-owned. Mismanagement, falling commodity prices and high fuel costs created serious economic problems and led to a fall in an already-low living standard.
Since the late 1990s the government has divested itself of many industries, but it now faces problems which include environmental threats to the coastal strip and rainforest, poverty and violent crime - the latter fuelled by the drugs trade.
The sugar industry - a key source of foreign exchange and Guyana's main employer - has been hit by the loss of preferential access to EU markets and a cut in European sugar subsidies.
Many Guyanese seek their fortunes outside the country; the exodus of skilled migrants is among the highest in the region.
A long-running dispute with neighbouring Suriname over the ownership of a potentially oil-rich offshore area was settled in 2007 by a UN tribunal that redrew the maritime boundary and gave both countries a share of the basin. The ruling could bring a surge of exploration by major oil companies.
The issue came to a head in 2000 when Surinamese patrol boats evicted a Canadian-owned rig from a concession awarded by Guyana.
The demarcation of the Guyana-Venezuela border is also disputed, with both countries claiming the mineral and timber-rich Essequibo region.
Incumbent President Bharrat Jagdeo, from the ruling Indo-Guyanese Progressive People's Party, won a five-year term in the August 2006 general elections, gaining more than 54% of the vote.
Bharrat Jagdeo has warned of the dangers of deforestation
The president promised to fight crime - and gang violence in particular - and to improve government services.
He has said Guyana must reduce its dependence on fossil fuel imports and boost access to information technology.
He has also called for the developed world and the developing world to cooperate more effectively in the battle against climate change.
In 2008, Mr Jagdeo accused the EU of 'bullying' Caribbean nations into accepting a trade agreement on what he said was less than favourable terms for the region.
After months of negotiations, he eventually signed the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) between the EU and over a dozen Caribbean countries.
Mr Jagdeo is a Russian-trained economist and a former finance minister. He worked for local and international financial bodies, including the National Bank of Industry and Commerce and the International Monetary Fund.
He first took office in August 1999 after his predecessor Janet Jagan resigned because of poor health.