Guyanese need to embrace technology to move forward
-Prof Sankat By Christopher Yaw
Stabroek News
December 21, 2006

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Guyana needs to move from an economy based on primary products and natural resources to a production or technologically diversified-type economy if the country is not to persist in its backwardness, engineer Professor Clem Sankat has said.

Delivering the feature address at the Guyana Association of Profes-sional Engineers (GAPE) 38th anniversary dinner at the Georgetown Club recently, the Guyanese professor who resides in Trinidad and Tobago said development cannot depend on production of primary goods or natural resources alone. Dubbing technology God's blessing to earth, he said it offers the poor a way to wealth by cleverness rather than by back-breaking labour. "It is no surprise the Asian nations like Indonesia, Korea, and Thailand have trod this path leading to prosperity and a greater standard of living for their people," he said.

The focus of Sankat's address was to highlight efforts being made by his faculty at the University of the West Indies St Augustine campus to produce higher quality graduates to boost engineering and development in the Caribbean. In the course of his speech he made several suggestions associated with developing Guyana's potential.

Sankat said one of the areas open for exploitation by Guyana is the conversion of alumina to aluminium while acknowledging there are new players in the industry from Russia, India, China and Venezuela. These players are attempting to take advantage of the growth of aluminium prices with China and India being projected as the biggest consumers in the next 30 years.

Having picked up the information at a symposium, the professor who is also actively involved in research and development, told attendees, "in all the discussions there was no mention of Guyana but there was talk about the use of alumina from Suriname and Jamaica."

The making of aluminium requires cheap energy and now there are also environmental concerns. Sankat observed, "therefore the solution in Guyana is to move from bauxite to alumina to aluminium in your own country using cheap sustainable energy."

Making a strong point for development in the country the Professor contended that for 40 years, "we talking about hydro [but] we still don't have it. For 30 years we talking about a bridge [over the Berbice River] and we still don't have it. I would like to go to the Corentyne because a sick relative is there. [But] I can't go there because I have to worry I might miss the boat. Good things are happening but they need to happen much more quickly to encourage the young people that the country has a real future as it has the resources and talent."

The Berbice Bridge Com-pany Inc (BBCI) presented a cheque for US$5.4M to the consortium of Bosch Rexroth BV of the Netherlands and Mabey & Johnson of the United Kingdom as the first tranche of payment for the design and construction of the bridge across the Berbice River in late August. Physical work on the bridge is slated to begin during the first half of next year, while completion is slated for the first quarter of 2008. The bridge, a floating structure similar to the Demerara Harbour Bridge, will be 1.75 kilometres and will extend from D'Edward Village on the western bank of the Berbice River to Crab Island on the eastern bank.

Sankat noted that development should be across the board since in the interest of maintaining rural stability farming should also be industrialized over a period of time. This is so, he said, because great potential exists for engineering in the area of food and agriculture production and processing. "We are still too much involved in primary agriculture, not getting downstream production going where you can really begin to add value," he observed. "We need to go beyond mere production although there is a void for Guyanese fresh produce in Trinidad. It calls for putting in good systems and infrastructure, good post-harvesting handling systems, such as a good packing house for instance and you can ship... plantains and bananas are in huge demand. We have the production levels however we are not matching our production with the market place."

In today's world Sankat said, development should start with, "what is the need I am going to fill?"

In making his case for technical development of the country as a way forward Sankat borrowed from a Nigerian engineer who said the difference between a developed, rich and prosperous country and an underdeveloped poor and wretched country is their level of technological and scientific development.

It is not progress in sport, it is not refinement in culture, neither the colour of their skin or rhetoric or erudition in debate on the floor of the UN it is simply science and engineering technology advancement. The G7 countries achieved their enviable status because they are the greatest science, engineering and technology nations in the world.

Recalling a visit to Grenada in 1982 he said while observing the way they were processing nutmegs at the time he thought he was back at the turn of the century. Ladies using mallets were extracting the nutmeg, which comes out of a dried fruit that resembles a small coconut.

There was one machine, he said, called a 'Jawbone Impact Cracker' the output of which was terribly produced nutmegs that were damaged and chipped with just a few good ones. "I thought that there must be a way to take away the manual drudgery and to build a cracker that would work."

The Professor said students were involved in the project and noted that the objective was to mimic the lady with the mallet by striking the nutmeg seed with one blow to open it thereby minimizing damage to the product.

"So we built a 'Centrifugal Seed Cracker' with rotating blades to accommodate various sizes of nutmeg seeds," he said. The blades would pick up the seeds and hurl them at the right velocity so they hit an inclined surface and fall down. Four of the machines were built and are in Grenada.

"I got students involved in this as it happened over a period of time, I am suggesting students be involved in practical creative work such as this to be solution oriented," he said.