The importance of agro processing
By David Yankana
Guyana Chronicle
March 4, 2003

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BECAUSE the family in which I was born lived in a little village on the Corentyne Coast, where many villagers were farmers or sugar estate field workers, and although I have lived away in the city for most of my life since I was 11-years-old, I still have the habit of rising out of bed at 4 o’clock in the mornings.

This is the time when farmers and sugar estate workers begin their day for work, hence their families are up early preparing meals, fetching water, herding animals. The resulting noise, which city dwellers may refer to as a nuisance, for rural communities, is the beginning of another day.

I have developed since my youth, a healthy admiration for the diligence and perseverance of the farmer. I have a nostalgic recall of villagers returning home at the end of a hot day with their fork on their shoulder, hands of plantains and roots of cassava at the end of a fork resting on a stooping shoulder of the worker with a faint smile of reward on his weather worn face.

As they passed our home, a villager, would call out to my mother in welcome, and enquire what she wanted today.

In my young adult life, while I worked in the Public Sector, I was asked at one time to supervise the operations of the Guyana Marketing Corporation (GMC), while its Manager was absent on leave. I came upon at that time, millions of citrus fruits, mainly oranges arriving at the GMC, which they bought, but could, not store or sell. They were thrown away down the Demerara River. At other times of the year, depending on the season, dumped, were volumes of cassava, eddoes, plantains and even fish. The GMC was ideally located on the edge of the Demerara River to facilitate dumping.

I reflected then on my youthful admiration for the farmers and contemplated on the waste of his productive efforts by such destruction. I said, in my lifetime, I would see our country processing all these products now going to waste. Since then, every opportunity I have had to encourage investment in Guyana, I push agro processing. Today, there are some very likely prospects.

Quite recently, another phase of this farming saga came to my notice. The New GMC does a fantastic job encouraging farmers and producers and middlemen to market a variety of crops overseas. To name a view, there is a thriving demand for mangoes, pineapples, dried coconuts and pumpkins for markets in the Caribbean, North America, Northern Brazil and as far away as in Europe.

The New GMC provides to producers much technical support, market intelligence, and logistical facilities for washing and packing.

The export earnings resulting there from, are far from matching GUYSUCO’s sugar or Omai’s gold, but think of the families whose lives are built around their work, which begins long before dawn and continues long past the end of sunset; in that way they are earning their livelihood.

Quite recently, you may have read or listened to an anecdote of what life is like in North Korea. A litany of distressing tales of malnutrition, absence of food and scavenging for anything that moves. These are the results of man-made disasters and in many other parts of the world, civil wars, tribal conflicts and murderous invasion of territory left millions homeless and without food. The emaciated bodies of children and the elderly announce the hopelessness of life for these people. These thoughts very often clearly invade my mind when I drive pass the wholesale market on the Merriman’s Mall on Wednesdays and Thursdays of every week and witness the splendid display of vegetables and fruits taken there for sale by our farmers and middlemen. Such experiences if you have taken notice should make us count the blessings bestowed on our farmers and from which we enjoy a bounty.

It is a shame to see the vendors on Wednesday evenings with bottle lamps strewn over the area reminiscent of a refuge camp, exposed to the high security risks to body and goods, so prevalent these days in the city. While this is so, the east section is more than adequately lighted for a promenade, but now invaded by settlers with no demand for mobility. Will the City Council only be moved only if there is tragedy to the vendors?

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