Points of Growth Editorial
Stabroek News
April 10, 2002

Related Links: Articles on rebuilding Guyana
Letters Menu Archival Menu

At a particularly depressing time, when grave acts of crime and lawlessness are an everyday occurrence, when the energising mechanisms for promoting consensus between the major political parties have broken down with the consequent real threat of disorder, when parliament is unmobilised and when businesses collapse or go into receivership regularly there have been two developments, albeit small ones, smothered in the welter of other news but which nevertheless gave a sense of hope that there are points of growth in the society.

The first is the visit of the small cruise ship with 128 persons on board which went up the Essequibo river. It might mark a breakthrough or perhaps the beginning of a breakthrough in what could be the growth of significant and very specialised growth in tourism.

The other is the success of the small group of farmers in the Northwest, now numbering thirty-two, who have successfully produced and exported organic cocoa.

The cruise ship was a surprise. One always imagined a cruise ship as huge, calling at familiar holiday destinations. However, the National Development Strategy (NDS), an insightful and virtually neglected document, has got it exactly right:

"... what should be encouraged are cruise ship passengers who come here specifically as eco-tourists. Eco-tourism which has been defined as a form of travel for pleasure that is focused on the natural and cultural environment, represents a very small but expanding niche market. It is designed to have a low impact on the environment; give the visitor a better understanding of the unique qualities of the place being visited, contribute to the wellbeing of the local population and promote conservation."

The NDS notes that "Guyana is ideally placed to take advantage of eco-tourism which is currently the fastest growing segment of the tourism industry..."

While the potential is real the NDS might be overly optimistic on time. It has taken some two years since the interest of the agency which arranged the cruise was engaged, to the date when the ship arrived here. Moreover, although arrangements went well so strong is the competition between sub-tourist destinations, and the schedule is arranged so long in advance that it may well take another two years before a cruise ship comes again from that agency.

Nevertheless there has been an important breakthrough, first in establishing that Guyana is a suitable destination and, second that the Guyana authorities and tour operators have the knowledge and capacity to handle the difficult logistics of such tours. The urgent task is to get other overseas companies and agencies interested. Such visits are not necessarily dependent on a cruise ship. Eco-tourists might arrive at Timehri and be ferried by air or speedboat to the hinterland destinations but such different logistics might require in addition to the present well appointed resort accommodation, the building of lodges and cabins and other hinterland infrastructure and training of personnel.

It is to be remarked that the success of the cruise tour was a notable example of cooperation between the State, the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Tourism, the representative NGO named The Tourism and Hospitality Association of Guyana and the private sector, the operators of Baganara. The growing interest in eco-tourism in the industrialised states is probably a spin-off from environmental concerns. It may also derive from fatigue or boredom with the artificiality of highly urbanised living. The growing consumption of organic food comes from other but related causes, namely alarm at the amount of chemicals getting into the food chain from the use of chemical fertilisers, insecticides, herbicides and fungicides. In some quarters there is also a perceived threat in genetically modified (GM) crops, new strains of which have been scientifically produced to increase productivity or resistance to disease or to enhance taste or appearance. The trend towards the consumption of organic foods has also been given a filip by the Fair Trade movement which seeks to eliminate middlemen or agencies so that the farmers can get the maximum benefit from the price paid by the consumer.

Whatever its motivations the consumer demand for organic food is no fad. Four years ago over five billion dollars worth of organic food was consumed in the USA. There the organic market is estimated to be growing at 25% annually. The same situation is found in Europe. In London, chain supermarkets devote increasing space to the display of organic foods.

The organic food producer is usually a small-scale farmer. In Dominica and in other of the Windward Islands some farmers have switched successfully to organic bananas, especially in view of market difficulties with regular bananas. In Mexico and Peru farmers are turning to organic coffee.

In the Northwest, in Mabaruma and Hosororo the thirty-two farmers have formed an association for the production of organic cocoa. Cocoa is not new to the area: some of the trees may be forty years old.

It seems that it was HRH Prince Charles who during his visit to Guyana stimulated the interest in organic cocoas with the British government providing initial support for organic production through High Commissioner Glover.

It was soon established that chemical fertilisers had never been used in cocoa cultivation, only compost. Similarly no pesticides had been used for insect control.

The Association's crop will be manufactured in Rotterdam in the Netherlands into organic chocolate. Now, the UK government has provided additional assistance through the Inter-America Institute for Cooperation in Agriculture (IICA) for expansion of the project with the National Agricultural Research Institute (NARI) providing research and field support. Very shortly cocoa cultivation will be expanded in the region and should eventually bring significant new income into that traditionally depressed area.

Of even higher importance for the future may be the organic sugar project quietly but carefully organised by Guysuco (see Stabroek Business, April 1, 2002). In September 2000 Guysuco started a pilot project of 124 hectares at its Uitvlugt/Leonora estate. In June the project should yield 500 tonnes of organic sugar. Sadly it is to be noted that natural production does not come naturally. Stabroek Business described the careful steps, some scientific, which must be taken to maintain the organic nature of the product including the use of a predator species of insect to cope with insect pests - instead of using pesticides!

The market for organic sugar is growing both in the USA and the European Union. David Jessop writing in his Sunday Stabroek column about the uncertainties of the sugar price and market for the Caribbean, noted the possible future importance of a niche market for organic sugar which would attract higher prices.

And it is understood that there is a developing interest in organic rice.

Of all the forms of industrialisation available for export-led growth including components assembly and the provision of high level technical services (becoming the back-office for northern industry) one of the most accessible is the use of available resources and skills to meet the needs of existing markets or emerging market opportunities including so called niche markets. There has been the high success in the manufacture of furniture from local woods for sophisticated European markets. Earlier, Barama had manufactured for sale in the US and regional markets, high quality plywood from until them a little used forest species, Baromalli.

But it should not be the case that the development of new export products should be left to the courage and skills of one or two entrepreneurs or the sympathetic interest of a Prince. It is possible that the process could be speeded up. In addition to a reinvigorated Go-Invest, one needs at least one person in key overseas missions and consulates who are trained to act as spotters and stimulators, who know where to look (journals and trade fairs etc.), and what to look for, so that local entrepreneurs could learn more easily and quickly about emerging market opportunities and possible co-investors.

The success in utilising the eco-tourist environment resource (the tourist resource is an export product) and the cultivation of organic sugar and cocoa for riche markets provide a basis for hope in what the poet once called `a dark time'.