The development of agriculture in the hinterland and its prospects in the local business world are being taken to new levels with the help of a recently signed Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the Ministry of Indigenous People’s Affairs (MOIPA), the Ministry of Social Cohesion and the Institute of Applied Science and Technology (IAST).
According to the MOIPA, a programme under the MoU is already being operationalized. In fact, a visit was recently conducted to the hinterland region by Minister within the Ministry of Indigenous People’s Affairs, Valerie Garrido-Lowe; Professor Suresh Narine, Director of the IAST and its associated team members to the Paramakatoi sub-region in Region Eight.
The officials acknowledged the fertility of the soil in the Region, an area where many crops not easily grown on the Coast can be grown without the need for fertilizers.
However, markets for the organic produce from the Region are challenged by the remote location and the high cost of air-lifting it to the Coastal markets.
Professor Narine explained that whilst there are some markets that can be accessed by road, such as Mahdia and Lethem, the roads are nearly impassable in the rainy seasons and arduous in the dry season, making the trip for perishable produce a difficult one with a high percentage of spoilage due to the lack of refrigerated transports.
He said that this has stymied development in the region, although almost all of the residents in the Paramakatoi, Bamboo Creek, Mountain Foot and Yawong Valley areas farm as their staple mode of economic activity.
The IAST recommended that the organic nature of the cultivation, the indigenous approach to sustainable agriculture, and the pristine mountain environment are powerful branding tools which can be used to market very high value organic products from the region.
Dr. Narine related that it was proposed that the first project would center on the cultivation of organic tomatoes which would be sun-dried in solar kilns within the Region, compressed and then flown to Georgetown for processing into sundried tomato salad dressings and sauces.
He said that the IAST has already developed a functional solar kiln which has been tested at its headquarters in Turkeyen, on the University of Guyana campus. The finished products will also feature, as a first product, a flagship brand for Region Eight which is currently being developed by the MOIPA in conjunction with the IAST, and which will heavily feature the majestic Pakaraima range.
Dr. Narine said that the advantage this approach offers is to ship dehydrated products, thereby reducing the freight cost, and to develop finished packaged products for the North American and European markets which are organic and therefore higher valued.
He said that the National Agricultural Research and Extension Institute (NAREI) will be assisting with the project by producing seedlings of the selected varieties of tomatoes, and in the promotion and promulgation of good husbandry for these crops, as well as in the monitoring of the cultivation.
The IAST’s Food and Feed Division has already begun to develop the formulations for the finished products and will be conducting consumer tests in May and June of this year.
Minister Garrido-Lowe and Professor Narine met with residents of Paramakatoi and surrounding areas in Paramakatoi and then with residents in the Bamboo Creek area to explain details of the project and seek feedback and advice from them.
In Paramakatoi, some 80–100 residents attended a meeting with the Minister and Professor Narine, where the project was discussed in detail. The residents expressed their enthusiasm for the project. They also expressed the hope that the IAST and the Ministry would remain committed and not abandon the community if problems are encountered. In this regard, they reminded the visiting officials that life in the Region is challenging and that it takes commitment to bring projects as the one under consideration to fruition.
The Minister, Professor Narine and the team then visited several remote farms on the mountain-side and in valleys, and witnessed first-hand the difficult terrain and long distances that farmers are required to travel to cultivate their farms and also transport, on their backs, the harvest.
The visiting team also committed to the development of agro-eco-tourism packages in the Region, which would educate tourists on sustainable agriculture in sync with ecological preservation and sustainable development approaches.
In Bamboo Creek, the team met with some 60–70 residents, and received similar feedback as in Paramakatoi.
A team from the IAST will be back in the Region at the end of April 2016, to select a location and begin construction of the first solar kiln. The work with the formulation, packaging and branding of the finished valued added products will continue at the IAST, in the meantime.
Significant amounts of discussion in both meetings focused on the water challenges faced by the communities in the dry season, which is exacerbated this year by the El Nino conditions.
The Minister and Professor Narine visited the main springs servicing the residents with potable water, and observed the alarmingly low levels of these water sources. Water samples were taken to assess the quality of the water sources, and this will be assessed by the IAST.
This information will then be shared with the GWI, as part of the ongoing collaboration between the IAST, the GWI, the MOIPA and Trent University. Recently, Vice President and Minister of Indigenous People’s Affairs, the Hon. Sydney Allicock and the CEO of GWI, Dr. Richard Van West Charles, visited Trent University at the invitation of Professor Suresh Narine.
There, several collaborations focused on water safety and security, were established; key among them is the access of Indigenous Peoples of Guyana to safe and sustainable water sources.
A team of experts from Trent University, which is world-renowned for its expertise in water, will be visiting various indigenous communities, including Paramakatoi, in the months of June and July.
The IAST and the GWI signed an MOU in January of this year, focusing on technical collaboration between the two entities.