In this the third discussion about the village of Victoria, one of the many rural communities facing grave economic and social challenges, an effort is made to highlight a few issues aimed at promoting and solidifying its development. Key to the effort is finding ways to take advantage of the core competencies of the village to enhance its productive value and enrich the lives of its residents. This will be the challenge of the Indaba (conference) this year as it seeks to advance the provisions of the Petition which was unanimously adopted by the National Assembly earlier in the year. Work in this area will begin once the implementing mechanisms have been put in place that would allow the village to leverage its budding relationship with both private and public sector institutions. While the substantive aspects of the Petition represent one area of focus, Victoria must confront the structural challenges lying in its path.
Based on currently available data, the unemployment rate in Victoria is estimated at about 40 pe rcent. Victoria shares a fate similar to every other part of Guyana. Ever since 2005, household expenditures tend to exceed household income in the aggregate, reflecting rising prices, low wages and continued unemployment. Due to poor drainage and irrigation management, it experiences severe flooding, with disastrous consequences for agriculture, a major income earner of the village. Taken together, these circumstances combine to diminish the spirit of residents and frustrate their efforts at improving their lives. The effective marketing of products, weak supply chain management and insufficient access to financial resources also remain major constraints to market growth and economic development.
The way forward will be a preoccupation of the 2011 Indaba. Public policy, void of its corrupt DNA, can help and will form part of the deliberations of the Indaba. But Victoria will have some early efforts of its own to build on. Evidence exists of initiatives to identify and remove constraints that are holding them back. Some amount of preparation to take on the challenges also exists. That pro-active process became identifiable eight years ago with the formation of the Victoria Reconstruction Trust (VRT) which seeks to address a critical component of the human resource problems of Victoria. The VRT has focused on training young adults, who are experiencing difficulty reaching their full potential.
The numbers are small, but the results are positive with the VRT assisting over 100 students from Victoria and other villages either to obtain life skills or move on to higher education in such areas as agriculture, welding, carpentry, sewing and motor mechanics. for this initiative remains a vital ingredient of its success. Their continued input can be seen as a guarantee for continued upliftment of the village. To keep track of its progress and to keep its programme relevant, the VRT has begun the process of recording an inventory of skills in the village and neighbouring areas. It is one way to address the skills gap in a timely manner and avoid the existing consequences of structural unemployment.
An understanding of the history of the village yields three areas of competency that can be used in the development process. One is the pioneering experience in creating the first village after the abolition of slavery and the hosting of one of the earliest national agricultural exhibitions. The willingness to cooperate and take risk is integral to the value of the pioneering effort and must remain a part of the character of residents for the village to advance. Accompanying the pioneering spirit is a critical knowledge base. Victoria has knowledge of its land availability and the usefulness and capability of those lands. With agriculture being central to its survival, residents have knowledge of its agricultural potential and know-how of agro-processing. This latter expertise enabled the village to be a leader in the production of cassava starch, cassava bread, casareep and coconut products. This leadership in value-added production has diminished over the years and needs to be rebuilt. A third core competency of the village is its high spiritual, educational and cultural consciousness.
The strategic and effective use of these competencies will help the village to compete successfully against other domestic producers and increase its chances of doing well in the export trade. Important provisions of the recently adopted Petition on the hosting of the national agricultural exhibition, the erection of a monument in honour of the 83 Proprietors who formed the village, and the restoration and preservation of the historical artefacts of the village will be used to motivate residents to constructive action. The national agricultural exhibition to be held in 2014 will be used as a motivating tool for expanding agricultural production. The exhibition will also be used to create employment opportunities.
Like other parts of Guyana, Victoria is influenced by the information and communication technology changes taking place in the country. These interests, mostly dominant among the younger generation, but with broader inter-generational consequences, diverge from the traditional behaviour and outlook of the village. The interest in technology and other non-agricultural pursuits presents both opportunities and difficulties with which the core competencies can be employed to the advantage of the village. A response under consideration is how to utilize technology as a means of attracting the younger generation to agriculture and other legitimate pursuits. It will also be used to reach decisions that could enhance efforts that are already underway to improve the human resources of the village.
Role of women
Given the prominent role women played in making the purchase of the village a reality, future efforts at revitalizing the village aim to take advantage of the contribution that they could make. This effort is expected to involve their participation in the creation, dissemination and utilization of new technologies. This participation would be in addition to the contribution to human development and the encouragement of good environmental and health practices. Their involvement from the design to the implementation stage is seen as a silver lining behind the dark cloud of despair hanging over the village.
The focus of the Indaba is solutions oriented and will integrate the outcomes, including any proposals on removing production, distribution and management constraints, into the decisions of last year and the activities to be pursued. This will be done through deliberations on a renewed effort to expand food production and sell value-added products, using the agricultural exhibition as a mobilization tool. The integrative approach to competition aims to use an identifiable brand as a franchise leader in food production and agro-processing to aid in expanding food production and the marketing of value-added products. Much hope is also being pinned on the mobilization and strategic use of technical capacity, particularly among successful women from the village, to help lead the efforts at human resource development. The active leadership of women is also expected in the dissemination and utilization of communication and technology tools and strategies, and the adoption of good environmental and health management and practices.
It is therefore with much anticipation that the 2011 Indaba will take place. There is hope that, like last year, residents will provide substantive information that could aid in the building of solutions to their problems. Consultations among residents during tours of the village suggest that the Indaba will not be a dull one.