$89M Parika pack house leased out to Caribbean investor

—was not being utilized by local farmers

The underutilized $89M Parika pack house has been leased out to an investor and is currently being modified to process cassava.

The facility was deeply embedded in the Ministry of Agriculture’s ‘Grow More Food’ campaign and when it was opened in 2008, it was said that it could prepare and package an estimated 40 000 pounds of produce for export in a 24-hour period. However it was not being used often and it has now been leased out.

The cost of the modifications is estimated at $4.6M and is being done by Sante Fe, which the Ministry of Agriculture described as “a large scale integrated farm project by large investors out of Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago to promote economic activities in Guyana, particularly within Region 9.”

In a statement responding to questions from Stabroek News, the Ministry of Agriculture said that the cost will be deducted from the lease agreement that another investor has with the New Guyana Marketing Corporation. This investor was not identified and when asked, a ministry official said that they could not disclose this information in keeping with a clause in the agreement signed with the investor.

The ministry said that when the modifications are done, the peeling, washing and vacuum sealing of cassava ‘logs’ will be done as well as the peeling and drying of cassava into cassava chips which then will be converted into cassava flour. It said that markets currently exist for this product.

The markets were not identified but the Ministry of Food production, Land and Marine Affairs in Trinidad last year developed a national plan for their cassava industry. The Trinidad Guardian had reported that the plan is to produce a range of value-added cassava products for the domestic and export markets.  The tropical root crop is just one of ten commodities selected for priority under the National Agri-business Development Plan with the T&T Agri-business Association (TTABA) being assigned the responsibility for the development and implementation of the programme.

Cassava, which is high in starch, was selected by the ministry because of its agronomic advantages, high yield potential, nutritional benefit, drought resistance, low susceptibility to praedial larceny and the capacity to be left in the ground after maturity, the Guardian reported. With this in mind, TTABA launched a contract production programme with farmers and commenced the production of a range of value-added products on the shelves of supermarkets, ranging from frozen fries (straight and crinkled), logs, wedges, grated, puree and cassava meal and were zeroing on bakeries and fast food outlets to buy into the cassava line of products, the newspaper had reported.

It is not clear if the Parika facility will now be available to other exporters. In a series done by Stabroek News on the ‘Grow More Food’ campaign, a number of farmers from the Parika, Ruby and Naamryck area told this newspaper that they do not use the facility, which was meant to facilitate their entry into the export business and was hailed by Agriculture Minister, Robert Persaud as opening “tremendous opportunities” to them.

Persaud has said that all produce would be processed at the facility free of cost to farmers and exporters. However, for every pound of produce processed, he had explained, the ministry will incur a $4 processing cost. He had said that the fact that the ministry will not pass on the processing cost to farmers and exporters reflects its seriousness in investing so that farmers would be given the space, incentive and support they need. He further encouraged all farmers to “take full advantage” of the facility.

The Parika pack house is the second of its kind with the first one at Sophia opened in 2001. Work on the infrastructure of the Parika facility commenced in December 2006 and the structure was completed in April, 2008. The ministry has said that for 2009, 2,031 tonnes of fresh produce was prepared for export at the Parika and Sophia packaging facilities. The ministry said that the Sophia pack house is not expected to be modified at this time.