Furniture maker carves new niche with forest products

Moving on from a successful experiment at exporting wicker furniture to the international market, Praimroop Prasad of Samuel’s Wicker, Rattan and Upholstery Works is now turning to value-added forest products.

The aim behind this new project, according to Prasad, is to increase the level of value-added products from Guyana’s forest resources.

Prasad indicated that the goal is to “try to stop exporting the raw materials” and to create more jobs for people. Last year, he opened a sawmill at Hubu, Parika that has 35 workers, while the manufacturing site at the Eccles Industrial Estate has 25 workers.

Currently, there is a market in the Caribbean and North America for doors and shingles and for products made from greenheart and purplehear as well as from Kabacalli, which Prasad intends to target.

The logs for the sawmill will be sourced from various interior locations and kiln dried and semi-processed at the Hubu Road, sawmill, a 10 minute drive from the Parika market. In addition, the sawmill will supply wood to the manufacturing location at Eccles, which will be undertaking the moulding and assembling of the wooden doors, shutters and roofing. There are also plans to begin upholstery works as well.

Prasad will also be looking to employ more people and to extend the value-added line of wooden products he plans to make. In addition, in January, his family business will be opening a shingles factory at Parika. A small shingles machine will be used at this operation, which Prasad noted will create less waste and give more production.

In 2006, Prasad made a decision to leave the wicker furniture business, owing to increased competition, and since that time has been involved in setting up his sawmill operation. Prasad began his business in 1997 to export wicker and rattan furniture to Barbados, but later expanded. Samuel’s Wicker became one of the country’s leading manufacturers of that type of furniture, exporting to the Caribbean and Europe. The business was a triumph for Prasad, whose first workstation was four wallaba posts and two tarpaulins at his then Vryheid’s Lust home.

Over the years a number of craft producers have stopped production owing to slowing demand and increased competition from low cost Asian furniture. The situation has seen some of the bigger names throwing in the towel, like Precision Woodworking at Industrial Estate Ruimveldt, which began operations in 1983 by exporting specially designed furniture to Europe and expanding to the Caribbean. Precision can be described as the producer of the most recognized Guyanese brand of specialized furniture. But low demand also caused it to close operations in April, after scaling back a few months prior.

Recently, President Bharrat Jagdeo held a conference with craft producers to ascertain some of the challenges they faced and to find ways to assist the struggling industry. The global financial crisis that began over a year ago has caused a sharp drop in tourist arrivals to the Caribbean, and limited spending on gift items. Tourists are a market which a lot of local craft producers target.

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