The importance of adding value to local produce

Guyana Chronicle
September 20, 2003

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SO attractive was the moist-looking reddish brown guava cheese in its tiny case of dried woven palm leaves that the housewife thought that it was yet another tropical delicacy imported here to displace its local counterpart. However, on closer examination, the curious shopper discovered that the tempting item was in fact a fruit cheese produced right here in Guyana from a combination of local, processed fruits. This was indeed another example of cottage industry entrepreneurs meeting the demands of the global economy with verve and innovativeness. This tiny package of fruit cheese would appeal to those Guyanese who, every so often, send little bundles of local condiments and confectionery to their relatives in Europe and North America just to remind those exiled ones of the wonderful tastes of home. Further, this little slab of fruit cheese in its woven basket is good enough to compete with the creatively packaged items that are produced in Jamaica and other leading Caribbean territories for tourists and for export to many far-flung countries of the planet.

With the gospel of globalisation impacting negatively on some economies, which for decades have been producing raw materials for the international marketplace, small developing countries and small entrepreneurs within those countries are challenged to employ all their creative faculties to devise ways of ensuring socioeconomic survival. It is not enough for particular territories to be complacent over annual production of so many tonnes of rice and sugar, or so many crates of pineapples, mangoes, pumpkins or avocado pears. Nor can a country be ‘laid back’ over the fact that its fishing industry is netting so many hundredweight of shrimp or snapper or trout. For while there are still many niche markets for bulk produce, exporters in developing countries have to be capable of moving beyond quantities of raw materials to the level of processed goods that are sound of quality, attractively packaged, competitively priced and are shipped to overseas markets on schedule. When an exporter or a manufacturer is capable of meeting these stringent conditions, then that person or entity has arrived as an active participant in the global economy.

The trend today is to manufacture a product to catch the fancy of buyers in special economic brackets. For instance, food manufacturers may target working mothers of the average middle-class nuclear families. Such women, many of whom are professionals, do not have the luxury of spending hours in a hot kitchen, yet they would like to give their families some semblance of a home-cooked meal once or twice each week. For these buyers, manufacturers add value that takes a lot of the drudgery from meal-preparation. Meats are cut expertly, “dressed” and, sometimes, partially cooked before being sealed in bags and frozen; vegetables are cleaned, cut in specific sizes, blanched and then packaged and frozen. The same goes for sweet and savoury pies and puddings, and a range of desserts, ices and beverages.

As far back as the early 1890s, some of the biggest supermarkets in the United Kingdom were showcasing neat packets of meats that were already dressed and partially marinated in a variety of seasonings. Several establishments in big cities cater specifically for single professionals, who are interested in dining well without having to spend many hours preparing a meal. Such prepared or semi-prepared meals are both appetising and convenient.

We can recall the October 1997 commissioning ceremony of the $100M Fishport Complex in Morawhanna, when Fisheries, Crops and Livestock Minister Satyadeow Sawh called on personnel of the new facility to process, package and export seafood. Mr Sawh outlined to that gathering the tremendous possibilities of value-added products held for transforming this economy from its traditional emphasis on rice and sugar into a world-class exporter of food products of superb quality and competitive prices.

Within the last decade and a half, a number of local and overseas investors have launched agro-industrial enterprises that produce goods for niche markets in the Caribbean and further afield. However, it is our view that this nation will only coast to its destined prosperity when there is a comprehensive approach to the intelligent exploitation and development of its agricultural potential.

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