Without many opportunities for gainful employment, almost every resident in certain
parts of the hinterland region is a farmer. And even though an infinite range of crops can be grown there successfully, the lack of sizeable markets only results in very little income for families there to afford goods such as clothing, shoes, fuel and other consumer items.
But if all goes well, a transformative project is expected to significantly improve the lives of many residents in those areas.
On August 9, 2016, at a simple signing ceremony at the Ministry of Indigenous People’s Affairs (MOIPA), the ‘Pakaraima Flavours’ project was officially launched. Featuring funding of $59 Million and $4.5 Million from the Government of Guyana and the Canadian High Commission, respectively, the ambitious project seeks to establish food processing facilities in Paramakatoi for the production of Sundried Tomatoes, which will be further processed into Sundried Tomato Salad Dressings at the Institute of Applied Science and Technology.
The project is a partnership between the Ministry of Indigenous People’s Affairs, the Ministry of Social Cohesion, the National Agricultural Research and Extension Institute (NAREI) and the Institute of Applied Science and Technology (IAST).
The project was designed by Minister within the Ministry of Indigenous People’s Affairs, Valerie Garrido-Lowe and Professor Suresh Narine, Director of the IAST. Consultations on the project were also held with the residents of Paramakatoi, Bamboo Creek and Mountain Foot.
When approached initially by Minister Garrido-Lowe, the IAST recommended that one solution could be the solar drying and preservation of crops right within the region, so that they can then be transported over the long periods that road transport requires, without spoiling.
The next step was to identify a crop that did not require significant capital expenditure to cultivate, which would be amenable to drying ,and the dried form of which would find a value added tertiary market which could sustain the still-high transportation costs that would be incurred to bring the produce that distance by road.
Tomatoes were selected because of the high popularity of sundried tomatoes and condiments made from them in Caribbean, North American and European markets.
Kaieteur News understands that NAREI was then contacted, and recommended that two types of tomatoes should be tried: the mongol and the heat master varieties. NAREI prepared 5,000 seedlings of these plants for the first trial, and the first of these are expected to begin producing fruit at the end of August.
It was found that the varieties are growing well in the region, but that there exists a need to further educate farmers in the proper timing of transplanting the seedlings, in pruning and other types of husbandry. A series of workshops are being planned to provide more information to farmers so that the efficiencies of production can be further improved.
Furthermore, the project encompasses the construction of the Paramakatoi Food Processing, Training and Research Facility, which will include a processing centre, a solar drying facility and a dormitory.
The IAST has designed the facility, and will be in charge of the operations for the completed facility over the initial five years. The IAST will provide training for youth enrolled in the Hinterland Employment Youth Service (HEYS) programme and other residents of the community in food handling, food safety, food preservation and food packaging at the facility.
The facility will purchase fresh tomatoes from the farmers, who will be paid up front for delivered, graded product. The facility will then process and package the sundried tomatoes in bulk, to be transported to Georgetown.
Some of these will be sold as packaged sundried tomatoes, whilst a portion will be used to produce sundried tomato salad dressings at the IAST. This will be done at a pre-commercial pilot scale, and individuals registered with the HEYS project will also receive training at this facility.
The residents of the region involved with the project are in the process of forming the Paramakatoi Agricultural Cooperative (PAC). Proceeds from the sales of the produce will be returned entirely to the PAC and its members, after any processing, packaging, marketing and other incurred costs are recovered.
Additionally, the IAST and the MOIPA will be working with the Ministry of Social Protection to ensure that these training programmes are accredited, and that the individuals successfully completing them are issued certificates which will qualify them to work in facilities related to this initiative and to other food processing facilities in the country.
The IAST has already developed the salad dressings, and according to Professor Narine, the institute conducted market tests of this product at the recently concluded GuyExpo 2016, and were enthused by the response to the product from the general public.
The Ministry of Social Cohesion, the Ministry of Indigenous People’s Affairs and the IAST signed an MOU in March last, to collaborate on developmental projects in indigenous communities. This is the second major project to be launched under this fruitful initiative, the first being the highly successful Rupununi Essence brand of luxury facial cleansers, which is under commercial production by the IAST in collaboration with the Makushi Research Unit and the Medicine from Trees unit, of the North Rupununi District Development Board.
A separate MOU, which is under the rubric of the MOU signed by the two ministries and the IAST, was inked between the MOIPA and IAST on Tuesday last, which articulates the expectations, rules and regulations under which the Pakaraima Flavours project will operate.
Like the Rupununi Essence project, the emphasis is on community development, community ownership and showcasing and promulgation of sustainable indigenous lifestyles and cultures. The community shall own any intellectual property, brand and process arising out of the project, and there shall be no profit accumulation, so that the community, through its cooperative, will benefit directly from the vertical integration of the product.
It is also the fourth project recently where high-end, well-packaged, scientifically developed tertiary products have been produced by the IAST. Their other stellar products include the well-packaged Morning Glory Rice Breakfast Cereal and the Morning Glory Nutrition Bars.
Although Professor Narine would not release exact information, he indicated that several other indigenous products are at the commercial stage, which has been developed by the Institute. And, in keeping with the focus on marketing the ancient knowledge of indigenous communities for their benefit, the Pakaraima Flavours salad dressings are characterized by the tagline: “Wuk Pong”…which means “from the mountain” in Patamona, the indigenous language of Paramakatoi.