The Paramakatoi Project
The IAST, working in collaboration with the Ministries of Indigenous Peoples Affairs and Social Cohesion, has embarked on a project centered on the village of Paramakatoi and surrounding communities of Bamboo Creek and Mountain Foot, located deep in the Pakaraima Highlands, in Region 8 (Potaro-Siparuni Administrative Region). This project also falls within the ambit and deliverables of the Hinterland Employment and Youth Service (HEYS), a youth program being implemented by the Ministry of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs. The project is a vertically integrated value-added agri-food project, centered on the production of Organic Sundried Tomatoes and Salad Dressings.
Every family in the three communities cultivate a small farm, on a subsistence level.
The residents of Paramakatoi and surrounding communities practice organic, sustainable agriculture on the slopes and valleys of this mountainous region. No fertilizer or pesticides are used, and the locations of the farms are shifted regularly, resulting in natural reforestation. The conducive climate and rich soil, coupled with the rotation of farm locations results in remarkable yields of agricultural produce; far outstripping yields in other parts of the country. However, the lack of a local market, and the astronomical cost of air transportation to populated markets are barriers to the development of agriculture as an income generator.
The lack of access to power and the high cost of fuel has stymied the development of post-harvest processing industries for preservation of agricultural produce, which may have allowed the difficult but passable road system to be used to access markets.
Given these conditions, the use of solar and biomass drying as a means of preservation presents a proven and appropriate technology (the Institute of Applied Science and Technology has developed an effective hybrid solar/biomass dryer and successfully tested it on the coast on a variety of fruits and vegetables, and this technology is used effectively in many rural regions of the world). Given the organic farming practiced, the potential for production of organic dried preserved fruits, vegetables, spices and flavor herbs and essential oils in the region is high. Furthermore, the remote location, Indigenous Lifestyles and pristine environment of the Pakaraimas provide additional branding appeal to discerning customers, particularly in North America and Europe, but also in the Caribbean, especially at tourist resorts catering to European and North American tourists. Dehydration, whilst an effective means of preservation, can also be used as a means of developing flavor, and of course for many fruits and vegetables, significantly reduces the weight to be transported.
Drying tomatoes at IAST
This project, therefore, focusses on the construction of a post-harvest processing, solar drying and packaging facility. The facility will be used from the inception for the processing of sundried tomatoes grown in the region, as well as for the training of the youth within the HEYS initiative and other residents in the region in post-harvest processing of agricultural produce, and as a research base for the development of additional value added products. The sundried tomatoes produced in Paramakatoi will be transported to Georgetown and used to produce Organic Sundried Tomato Salad Dressings.
The IAST has already developed the salad dressing, its packaging and a business and marketing plan. The product is shelf stable, and in a recent market study conducted at GuyExpo, consumer reaction to the product was extremely favourable.
This project has the potential of transforming the communities in Paramakatoi, Mountain Foot and Bamboo Creek, through generation of income via a vertically integrated Organic Agri-Food Business. Importantly, there would be no “middle-men” and the village shall own the rights to the brand, the formulation, and the entire business. Therefore, all proceeds shall redound to the benefit of the community. Beyond these communities, however, will be the development of a national facility where Indigenous Youth can learn about Agri-Business, Post-Harvest and Solar Processing, and Value-Added foods. The multiplier effect, through the training to be conducted by the IAST, but also through the example of the successful injection of technology for community enterprise and development would be of immense value to the national development of our Indigenous Communities. The benefits of this one project being successful are immense because it would demonstrate what can be accomplished.
The Institute is currently supervising the construction of the Solar Drying and Processing Facility in Paramakatoi.