Georgetown : The Ministry of Social Cohesion and the Institute of Applied Science and Technology (IAST) continue to undertake projects aimed at enhancing the livelihoods of Amerindian farmers and producers in the Region Nine area; recently returning from a five- day trip from the North Rupununi, where product development training, technical assistance and rehabilitation works to the Parishara peanut butter factory, among other activities, were undertaken.
The partnership, which was formed in November, has already seen farmers and other producers being able to better develop and market their products and boost their earning power.
Minister of Social Cohesion, Ms. Amna Ally, relayed that her Ministry has recognised that social cohesion and national unity cannot be achieved without economic and financial stability. As such, she noted that the Ministry is engaging stakeholders to determine what is needed to support community empowerment.
The Ministry and IAST formed a partnership which has as its mandate the development and/or adaptation of the appropriate technology for the utilisation of Guyana's natural resources, so that these resources can be gainfully developed and exploited for the benefit Guyanese.
Since a meeting with residents, farmers and producers in Region Nine in November, the IAST, under the stewardship of Professor Suresh Narine, and the Ministry have been working with the Macusi Research Unit (MRU) and Medicine from Trees Group. The projects undertaken by the IAST for these groups aimed at adding value to their products by adding scents and flavours to products such as body lotions, oils and soaps and making them into attractive shapes and sizes to ensure access to higher priced markets.
In December, the group arrived in Georgetown, compliments of Dr. Narine, and were taken to the IAST labs where they were introduced to the technology used to achieve improved textures and scents of the soaps and lotions; and they were taught how other materials in their environment can be used as substitutes to the machinery in the labs, to get the best results. The group was also taught the science of soap making, how to deal with variables, branding for the products, how to maximize profits, maximizing raw materials and labour, cost to profits ratios and how to draft a business plan to access funding.
On January 9, an 11-member team from the IAST, accompanied by Mr. Shabir Ally of the Ministry of Social Cohesion, travelled to the communities of Annai, Bina Hill, Parishara and Hiwa, North Rupununi to augment the soap-making skills taught at the IAST labs in December, while ensuring that the Parishara Peanut butter factory was back in operation.
The team also helped newly appointed CEO of Bina Hill, Mr. Eugene Xavier, to collect samples for its ongoing research efforts, in collaboration with the MRU and MFT, to standardize extractions, dosages, and formulations of the community’s salves, ointments and tinctures.
The other members of the team, including fabrication specialists David Singh and Gopaul Narine, glass blowing specialists Andrew Thom and Aaron Rambarran, Project Officer Raveena Mangal as well as Messrs Jones, Wilkenson, Nurse, Mr. Shabir Ally and Professor Narine focused on resuscitating the peanut processing facilities in Parishara Village.
Operated by the Parishara Organic Food Processors Association, the facility, which was used to produce peanut butter for the North Rupununi’s schools feeding programme, was badly damaged and inoperable when the team from IAST and the Ministry of Social Cohesion first visited in November 2015.
At that time, at the behest of the community, the IAST committed to repairing the equipment, which had a badly damaged roaster and mill. When the team returned to the community this month, however, they noticed that the buildings housing the equipment had been badly damaged, and were not suitable for the production of food. The team then planned to rehabilitate the buildings and paint them, both inside and out.
With support from the community, the team and community members were able to complete all repairs to the buildings, apply fresh coats of paint inside and out, and return the entire facility to a state suitable for food manufacture in three days.
Chairperson of the Parishara Organic Food Processors Association, Ms. Arlene McDonald commended the IAST team for their hard work and help given to the community, while impressing that it is only the first step for the village as they look forward to ensuring the residents begin to prosper from and utilize the repaired peanut processing facility.
Other residents from Parishara, including Ms. Jennette Isaacs and Ms. Maglene (only name) expressed their gratitude to the team from IAST. Ms. Isaacs said the team did a very good job and anticipates the continuity and sustainability of the work done on the buildings and equipment. Ms. Maglene, who works at the primary and nursery schools of the village said, “I am one of the older residents of Parishara and we have been working very hard with the group. Now we have the younger people working with it, but it was very good for the team to help us. It was very surprising to me, I felt shocked to see these people coming to work in my community when I should have been doing it yet, the outsiders came and did it and I’m so grateful for that. We will definitely continue to work hard and try our best.”
Meanwhile, Professor Narine, in the company of Mr. William Toney, Regional Executive Officer, Mr Carl Parker and Deputy REO, Ms. Maylene Stephen, visited the community of Hiwa and held consultations with the residents on how the institute can help meet their technology needs.
The villagers expressed a desire to employ technology solutions for the value-added processing of oranges grown by the residents. Currently, some 3, 000 orange trees exist in the village, and most of the produce from these trees is wasted during the bearing season. Professor Narine advised that it may be best for them to consider the production of marmalade with these oranges, since it has several advantages.
Furthermore, he posited, if the branding and marketing of this product is successful, it would provide impetus for planting additional orange trees, thereby increasing the revenue earned by the villagers. Dr. Narine, however, indicated to the residents that in order for the IAST to seek funding for this project, the villagers would have to form a formal fruit processing association which can own and take responsibility for the equipment.
The villagers, led in particular by Mr. Joseph Abraham, Village Councillor, pledged to create the association, and Professor Narine committed to seek government funding for the processing facility on their behalf. He also committed the IAST to installing the processing facility and training the villagers in the production of safe and quality spreads such as orange marmalade.
Professor Narine revealed that a significant amount of the institute’s efforts in 2016 will be focused on work with indigenous communities in Regions Nine, Eight and One. Currently, a Memorandum of Understanding is being drafted between the IAST, the Ministry of Indigenous People’s Affairs and the Ministry of Social Cohesion, so that these projects can be funded, to ensure sustainable development of revenue-generating ventures among indigenous communities.