Rupununi Expo provides welcome market for exhibitors -Lethem power supply remains a problem
Stabroek News
December 4, 2006

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Amid country-and-western and forro music the final day of the Fifth Annual Rupununi Expo kicked off yesterday with a significant increase in the number of stallholders selling local produce and craft and by day's end the event was described as a success as exhibitors racked up sales.

One of the organizers of the event, President of the Rupununi Chamber of Commerce and Industry (RCCI), Daniel Gajie, last evening hailed it as successful.

The first day of the Expo on Saturday had seen a limited number of booths showcasing local craft and produce with most of the stalls selling food and beverages. Yesterday, the number of stallholders had significantly increased although there were a few problems which some stallholders said were due to poor organizing of one of the Rupununi's major events. However, many said that the reason for the problems encountered was the postponement of the event by a week because of problems with the power supply.

Speaking with Stabroek News, Gajie said that the event was slowly improving over the years and noted the fact that in this year's Expo there were 45 booths compared to 30 last year. He stated that with the help of regional, governmental and other organizations and with the support of major sponsor, Banks DIH, the event was beyond expectations.

On a tour of the booths yesterday, the majority of stallholders selling local produce reported excellent sales with most expecting to be sold out by last evening. Most had arrived late Saturday and yesterday began exhibiting their produce. A few local craft producers however said that sales were minimal and lamented the fact that some of the craft had taken months to be completed and when selling the items they were forced to lower prices as potential buyers objected to or claimed not to be able to afford the prices. Other booths reported "reasonable" business with some, however, stating that attendance had been better in previous years. Daniel Gajie

Blasting a stream of popular Brazilian hits the USAID/GHARP booth attracted persons of all ages. Michael McGarrell, a representative told Stabroek News that the strategy was successful as quite a number of mostly females took the HIV test being offered by the organization. He stated that he was pleased with the response but noted that it could have been better. Also focusing on HIV/AIDS was the Lethem branch of the Red Cross with the knowledgeable assistant field manager, Jason Foo, emphatically stating that they were present to "educate and sensitize persons about HIV/AIDS". He said the response was "favourable" with the booth using videos to attract the crowd.

Popular also was the Guyana Bank for Trade and Industry (GBTI) booth with the staff coaxing persons to enter and then dispensing information. Aruna Hari, a representative said that the response was good with persons from as far as Gunns Strip, about 200 miles away, enquiring about the services being offered by the bank. Acting Manager of the Lethem branch, Surendra Samdass drew attention to the fact that in the Rupununi the rates on loans offered were significantly lower that those offered at the other branches. Agricultural, Commercial, Personal and automobile loans were being offered at 10, 10 to 12, 16 and 14 percent respectively with the same loans being offered at higher percentages at other branches elsewhere in the country.

Emeline Baretto of the St. Ignatius-based Helping Hands Women's Group said that sales were minimal at the group's craft booth but stated that she was just glad for an opportunity to showcase the items given what she said was the limited market in the Rupununi. She stated that almost always when selling to locals they were forced to lower their prices while tourists are willing to pay the prices offered.

Other farmers from various locations in the Rupununi told Stabroek News of the problems they were facing with transportation and marketing. They said that because of the absence of markets in their own villages and the prohibitive cost of getting their produce to Lethem they normally did not get to sell anything.

They said they were glad to have an opportunity to sell their produce and declared that sales were going well with many expected to be sold out by the evening.

On Saturday night the Miss Rupununi Pageant was held with Lenize Nickolson grabbing the crown from a field of six contestants.

Yesterday's events included a road race, a football match, horse races and finally a Rupununi night to end the Expo.

Opening day Saturday saw a bevy of Government ministers in attendance.

Tourism Minister Manniram Prashad in declaring the event open, reiterated to the gathering which included regional officials, businessmen, farmers and exhibitors that plans for an Industrial Estate in Lethem were being looked at and assured that the bridge over the Takatu River that borders Guyana and Brazil would be completed.

Beginning next year, he also said, the Tourism Ministry would be making a person available to the organizers of the event. He urged the organizers to run the event so as to make it profitable and said that the government will not only support the event but other activities as well.

Also present during the ceremony was Commissioner of Forests, James Singh, who awarded the Lethem Timber Association 15,000 acres of forest so that its members could access the resource. Acoushi ants, a plague suffered by farmers, was also addressed with Agriculture Minister Robert Persaud handing over a quantity of bait. He told the farmers that the programme for managing the plague was a $4M initiative with NARI also being given a further $1M for the production of the bait.

Regional Chairman Clarindo Rudolph in addressing the gathering said that the region was open to investment and added that the large amount of land available in the Rupununi should not be allowed to be wasted.

Gajie in his address on Saturday slammed the Lethem Power Company (LPC), alleging financial irregularities in the company. "We have a feeling all is not well there", he stated, calling for the financial affairs of the company to be examined. He said also that there was a "continuous decline in the level of service" offered by the LPC and said the people continue to be ignored by the company.

Also present at the ceremony were a number of other officials including Nizam Hassan of the New Guyana Marketing Corporation and Jagnarine Singh of the Guyana Rice Development Board, among others.

There was also a booth available specially for gambling operated by a Brazilian.