Government will be pouring approximately $25 million into the Hope Estate on the East Coast Demerara as it attempts to reconvert the area into the thriving coconut plantation that it once was, Agriculture Minister Robert Persaud says.
As part of this revitalization plan, the government is moving to build a $9.5 million coconut water bottling plant in the area. While the government is funding the construction of this facility, the technical design for the plant is being produced by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Persaud told this newspaper. Persaud said that once the technical design for the project has been completed work can begin on the facility which has an estimated construction time of six months. The government hopes to partner the private processers, including some which are overseas-based, to run this facility, Persaud explained. According to him, the government hopes that this will serve as a boost to the industry and that it will provide jobs. He said too that it was hoped this will serve as an impetus for starting up other such plants in the country, noting that at present there are about three private coconut bottling plants locally.
Two Saturdays ago, Persaud met with some residents of Hope Estate at the Hope Primary School and outlined the plans to residents. He said that historically the area was about producing coconuts, but stated that when there was a downturn in the industry internationally, local production was affected. Persaud noted, however, that “over the last year and a half or two years, we are seeing a significant interest in the rebirth of the coconut industry,” and the government has since launched its coconut revitalization plan.
He explained that part of the purpose of this plant is to provide support to private estate owners and that altogether there are about 25,000 acres of coconut estates. “We see the Hope Estate as being very central in terms of the government’s effort to revitalize that industry and already work has started on the creation of two nurseries,” Persaud said.
He said the Ministry of Agriculture is looking at generating plant material to supply farmers across the country. Currently, officials are examining the various varieties of coconuts and are partnering with international agencies to make generating plant material a reality. A recent agreement signed with Colombia is expected to be of benefit to the Agriculture Ministry in fulfilling this particular objective, Persaud noted. Meanwhile, Persaud stressed that there are markets for the coconuts. He said there is a big market for the commodity in North America and referred to discussions which are ongoing with the Dominican Republic.
He observed too that the Goya brand is interested in having Guyana supply the ingredients for its coconut products.
Persaud also said that the ministry will be pushing for inter-cropping in the area. While noting that a bit of this was already taking place in the community, he was of the view that Hope Estate can become “a model location for diversification.” He further pointed out that given its geographical location, the community could play a very important part in providing food for export.
Meanwhile, Persaud told Stabroek News that the construction of the $3.6 billion Hope Canal will not negatively affect the plans to revitalize the coconut industry. Rather, he contended that it will improve the drainage capacity in the region. He said that the canal will be constructed through the reserves and it will involve minimal clearing away of vegetation. The minister noted too that some of the $25 million will also be used to improve the drainage and irrigation in the community.