Shaping the economic environment for wealth generation Editorial
Guyana Chronicle
March 29, 2004

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MIDDLE-AGED Guyanese grew up in the 1950s and 1960s with the refrain of this country’s wonderful natural resources ringing in their ears. They were taught in Primary School that Guyana was tens of times larger than Trinidad, and that Barbados could be accommodated in the mouth of the mighty Essequibo River, which has over 300 small islands along its magnificent length. Guyana, they learnt, back in those colonial days, is blessed with agricultural produce such as rice, sugarcane, coconuts, a range of citrus and other fruits, and a great variety of succulents, lentils and ground provisions. In the line of mineral wealth, this country boasts gold, diamonds and semi-precious stones, bauxite and manganese. A wide swath of the landmass is covered with stands of trees suitable for harvesting both hard and soft woods for major construction works and the manufacture of furniture.

Since the attainment of political Independence in 1966, Guyana’s vast potential for becoming a major exporter of products has been cited ad nauseam by national leaders, economists and overseas development experts. This country was poised to become the most dynamic, most prosperous territory in this part of the world, when the golden moment of “economic take-off” arrives. Over the last decade and half, local entrepreneurship in collaboration with foreign investment has prompted impressive levels of agro-processing and manufacturing industries. Today, value-added and attractively packaged items of agricultural produce, seafood and beverages are routinely sent overseas to niche markets in the Caribbean, North America and Europe. With the assistance of technical and marketing experts, members of farming communities in the North West and in the Rupununi are preparing quality products of food, beverages and handicraft, and are offering these for sale to specific markets abroad. The hills of pumpkins and pineapples, which were the despair of farmers in the past are now being expertly packed and shipped to sister Caricom territories. Other popular export items include breadfruit, mangoes, eddoes, and cashew nuts.

However, as gratifying as these developments are to Guyanese, there is the view that these together constitute just a fraction of the untapped natural wealth of the country. With the right formula of skills, capital and technological inputs, this country could indeed become the “breadbasket” of the region so long envisioned by political leaders. A comment observed in “Caribbean Export News” of June 2001 is pertinent to this theory. The comment reads: “In many ways, the Caribbean is a perfect case study of the problem of development in an era of globalisation. The world’s best development research demonstrates that prosperity is based, not on natural endowments, but on the ability of a nation or region to create an environment characterised by competitiveness and innovation. A combination of well-defined strategic priorities and investment in the development of social capital including skilled human capital and knowledge accumulation is the basic condition for creating a platform from which companies can export complex, highly differentiated products and services. These exports create value for sophisticated and demanding consumers outside the country. Consumers in turn reward companies with higher profit margins, contributing to wealth creation in the country.”

Guyanese who have spent time in the Caricom territory of Barbados, have been impressed with the island’s high standard of living. But, while it boasts scenic beaches and blue waters, Barbados does not possess a fraction of the natural resources of mighty Guyana. Yet that country has an enviable economy and a strong dollar. We must agree with the analysis of the author of “Caribbean Export News”. Possessing a plethora of natural resources is no guarantee of urgent prosperity in this age of global capitalism. Wealth is created after a regimen of priorities is united with a skilled workforce and a database of knowledge. This combination will then produce the world-class goods and services that will earn companies and countries massive profits.