I read the editorial in the Guyana Journal (September 2005, GuyExpo 2005) with interest and could not agree more. Oh, when will we ever learn? So much potential, yet so much inaction and fanfare that often don't yield much.
Guyana needs to seriously study the policies and strategies of its third world competitors and learn why (given their small sizes and populations) some have made positive inroads in the international arena, especially in the areas of trade, agriculture, culture, and tourism.
As we know, the biggest impediment to development and prosperity for developing countries, like Guyana, is the gross unfairness of trade agreements in the so-called free markets. They always seem to inure to the benefit of already developed countries and the corporate giants who helped develop them.
Like it or not, globalization and its concomitant effects on countries like Guyana have long settled on us. However, since the economic forecasts for the foreseeable future from the International Monetary Fund and other credible institutions seem to indicate that only countries with a strong growth record can expect to sustain themselves and see a reduction in poverty, then Guyana has to start setting higher standards for itself and placing more stringent demands on itself.
The potential surely exists for agricultural diversification and the endeavors of some bright entrepreneurs in three experimental projects (listed below) indicate that Guyana can aspire to a level of macroeconomic stability in order to integrate within the global economy, albeit slowly.
Project No. 1: As reported in the Stabroek News on March, 2004, when Prince Charles visited Guyana in March, 2002, he promised the Mabaruma/Hosororo farming community that if they could reach European standards set for organic farming, the United Kingdom was capable of purchasing all the coco Guyana could produce under those guidelines.
Since then, that community of farmers keep rising to the challenge steadily. As reported in the Stabroek News on June 13, 2005, the group strengthened their number from twenty-six to sixty-two, and now call themselves the Mabaruma/Hosororo Organic Coco Growers Association. They are now certified as organic farmers by Skal, a Dutch body, and supply coco to Prince Charles' Duchy Originals Company in Holland, a leading organic brand of food and drink, which produces world-class chocolate.
This unique group's success did not come without challenge. It took some time and trial and error for them to achieve the status of certified organic farmers, but their persistence is paying off. Now, their objective is to fully meet Duchy Originals demand for organic coco.
Since the chocolate industry is a gigantic one, there is certainly room for these entrepreneurs to not only meet their present market demand, but also to seek other international markets and expand their growth and sales.
Project No. 2: Euterpe oleracea or the manicole palm. It is said that this multi-stemmed palm grows wildly along the edge of the rainforest in Guyana and other South and Central American countries. In gourmet circles, the tender heart of the stem of this palm tree (really undeveloped leaves) has become a delicacy used by chefs all over the world in appetizers smothered with cheese, as a plain snack, or in salads, much in the same way the hearts of the artichoke plant is used.
Yes, it is the same palm leaves our grandparents and great grandparents stripped (mostly in the riverain areas in the Essequibo River) and made brooms which they used to sweep the yard. And it is the same broom used in Guyanese folklore to beat the ol' higue to prevent her from sucking out all the baby's blood.
Some French entrepreneurs have spearheaded the Organic Hearts of Palm Project in the Barima River, some 200 kilometers from Georgetown. As part of the project, they have built a processing plant where the product is bottle d or canned after harvesting by hand to prevent damage to the environment, then sold internationally under the brand name Native Forest.
On their website, Native Forest reports that many of the surrounding residents are now gainfully employed and have been given hope for a brighter economic future. Prior to the project, most of them were unemployed.
So far, several hundreds of thousands of acres have been earmarked, specifically to develop this project under organic farming guidelines. As long as these standards are adhered to, there is no reason why this project should not remain economically viable for a very long time.
Project No. 3: Most of us are familiar with pain killer bush or Morinda citrifiolia. Native to the Pacific Islands, this green knotty fruit also grows plentiful in Guyana. In alternative medicine, it is quite widely acknowledged that once extracted from the fruit and if taken in its pure form, Noni juice has a wide range of health benefits ranging from a strengthened immune system to good circulation to emotional wellness, among others.
One health magazine reported that many doctors in traditional medicine swear by Noni's goodness and have been recommending its use as a food supplement (not a drug) to their patients over the last decade with huge success.
The President of a Canadian company which sells herbal products has acknowledged that while many brands of Noni come out of Tahiti, he considers Guyana a "pristine source' for the fruit which is not cultivated at this time in Guyana, but grows wild in the rainforest. Presently, the fruit is harvested by Amerindians living in the jungle, then shipped to the factory in Canada for processing.
This writer is a true believer. I always keep a bottle in my refrigerator and take an ounce or two every day for about three months or so, then stop and start again. When I'm blocked and can't write, it gets my creative juices flowing.
Noni is also used topically to relieve burns, skin irritations, skin infections, and insect bites.
Manufacturers in the cosmetic industry are also including Noni in their various lines of beauty products now.
We all know that alternative medicine and the cosmetic industry are multi-billion dollar industries. As a priority, Guyana needs to earmark and cultivate land (which we have in an over abundance) for growing crops that could yield long-term economic benefits.
Other agricultural experimentations with peanuts, cashews, and almonds have also indicated that these crops could be cultivated on a large scale in Guyana for local and foreign consumption.
The overseas markets do exist. We just have to find them. Quickly carving out a niche in these markets that will only get bigger should be a top priority for Guyana. We have to keep on hoping for and aspiring to the very best for ourselves and our country.
Marilyn Browne is a freelance writer living in Lithonia, Georgia.