Dubbed “Guyanese Flavour Uncapped”, the Guyana Manufacturing and Services Association (GMSA) with support from the Ministry of Business successfully pulled off a three day (October 27 – 29, 2017) agro processors exhibition at the National Exhibition Centre, Sophia.
This event was widely supported by other private bodies, members of the diplomatic corp and Government officials. The opening , which commenced at 17:00 hours on Friday, October 27, saw hundreds in attendance and was officially declared opened by Prime Minister, Moses Nagamootoo.
President of the GMSA, Shyam Nokta, indicated that “Companies offering packaging and labeling services, shipping, logistics and financing are among those participating. We also have the presence here of many facilitating and regulatory agencies. This response is indeed encouraging for the GMSA.”
He noted that, in the past and even today, talks continue to surround the country’s untapped agro processing potential, with a view to expand and diversify Guyana’s agriculture sector. Mr. Nokta said that while some progress has been made, there still room for improvements. “Our agro processors are often unable to compete both at the domestic level and external markets and there are many reasons for this, such as, poor economies of scale, producers not being able to maintain supply and consistency, packaging and labeling not being attractive enough and difficulties in accessing markets.”
Apart from that, he said the GMSA wants to hear from Government what its policy on agro processing is. “We need the role of traditional agriculture and new agriculture needs to be articulated along with the thinking regarding agro processing. Recently, there has been the announcement of several initiatives, the tumeric factory in Region one, the cereal factory in Region two, successful trials, which have grown potato in Guyana among other initiatives. While commendable, for these and other efforts to be sustained, they need to be situated within a clear policy framework for agriculture development and agro processing.”
He also took the opportunity to highlight three critical barriers to agro processing. These are financing, transportation and energy consumption. On the issue of finance, Nokta said, “For many agro processors access to affordable finance in a timely manner and at reasonable concessionary terms is a challenge but this need not be the case there is a high level of liquidity in the banking system which could be channeled to agriculture and agro processing once the right policies are in place.”
While the emerging oil and gas sector is important to the economy, Chairman of the Private Sector Commission, Eddie Boyer urged that, “We must not neglect our agriculture sector, but instead we must be wise and build on the base.” He also suggested that Guyana taps into the international market for organic produce.
“We have the advantage of being exposed to growth in agro culture technology, the exposure to new methods of growing and these would result in higher yields, better products and expanded markets and the net effect of all of these would be expansion in export trade and increase in foreign currency.”
Meanwhile, the Prime Minister’s address surrounded the advancements of partnerships between the State and the Private Sector. He said the private sector should see the state as a friend and partner as it moves to diversify and develop its economy, “because the State is the biggest investor in areas that service the private sector.”
However, in strengthening this partnership, Mr. Nagamootoo said it is important for them to also recognize that even though the country is not growing as it should, it is still above most of its Caribbean counterparts. He added,“Even if we were four percent annually or 3 and a half percent annually, we were shining way above the development growth rate of Caribbean countries and that shows that we have something that tells us that Guyana may not be moving forward as fast as we want it but it is not moving backward. We have a two percent inflation rate, which has been kept low over many years but it is not something that we should bemoan. We have stability.”
With the exception of the sugar industry, the Prime Minister said the private sector continues to dominate the economy and has pledged the Government’s unwavering support to the sector. Making reference to the rice industry, he said with innovation and diversification, this industry can soar to great heights. “We can do better so we don’t have to export bulk rice, bulk paddy; we could diversify and have better packaged rice and better varieties. Why sell rice to Mexico, only for Mexico to sell biscuits to Japan. Why can’t we make biscuits right here?” He added that,“In this situation you have to take the advantage and run with it. You have a friendly and cooperative Government. We have challenges and difficulties but we can see the end to some of these.”
Alluding to the recently concluded Business Summit, the Prime Minister said it shows that the Business community and the State are finding common ground in which problems are resolved in an amicable fashion. The Prime Minister added that,“It is not a confrontational matter. There is no case to be won, feeling that the State is not supportive, but you have to tell the State what it needs to do and how it needs to do these things to build your confidence.” He also commended the private sector for their humanitarian efforts by pledging their financial and other forms of support to the hurricane relief efforts.
Meanwhile, Minister of Business, Dominic Gaskin said, “The Ministry is proud to be a part of this innovative and practical attempt to link local producers with local processors and local processors with local consumers and to build capacity in the agro-processing sector.” Mr. Gaskin remarked that such activities are essential to building investor confidence. “And, this in turn increases the level of investment in our economy. We need investments to create jobs and to generate tax revenues for funding better education and better healthcare, better roads and security and all the good things that governments are supposed to provide.”
Over the 3 day event, over 4, 000 patrons attended with over 50 exhibitors drawn from across Guyana participating along with several keynote restaurants and food service providers who participated in the DDL sponsored Food Festival. There was also a Culture Night featuring several leading local artistes.