For Gail-Ann Gouveia it’s a long journey from gathering crabwood seeds on the forest floor at Three Brothers Village in the Waini River to having her Waini Secrets Crabwood Oil Soaps appear on shelves in shops in downtown Port-of-Spain.
Guyanese manufacturers complain constantly about the challenges they face trying to get their products accepted in the competitive regional markets so that when even a single locally manufactured product finds acceptance in a market known to be dauntingly discriminatory that is something to shout about.
Waini Natural is the name of the company that manufactures Waini Secrets products, soaps, oil and cream made mainly from crabwood oil and gradually finding its way on the local market. Gail-Ann has been making the crabwood oil ever since she was a girl, gathering the crabwood seeds from the forest floor twice a year, cutting, then scooping the pulp and then mixing it with a base of coconut oil to produce the crabwood oil. As a healing agent Amerindians swear by the product. Over time it finds its way into Georgetown.
The commercial venture really started in 2006. Gail-Ann recalls that she would make the crabwood oil and set out for the Kumaka Market by boat to sell the product. She still journeys to the Kumaka Market to take her farm produce, coconuts and ground provision.
In 2007 a building erected with the support of the German Development Bank was pressed into service as a factory. It is, Gail-Ann says, a step forward but still a long way from reducing the labour–intensive nature of the production process. She has learnt that Brazil is a world class producer of a range of crabwood oil products and is keen to learn whether such equipment as can make her operation more capital intensive can be found in Brazil.
Gail-Ann talks about the challenges; those associated with finding people to do what she describes as “hard work.” There is also the challenge of the increasingly high prices she must pay for coconut oil, an indispensable base used in the manufacture of the crabwood oil. In order to alleviate that problem she has only just invested in the cultivation of some three-year coconut trees. When those begin to bear fruit her production costs are likely to be reduced.
It is the fact that the production of the crabwood oil remains labour intensive that is her biggest challenge. One of her current preoccupations is with learning more about the technology used in Brazil. Until she can render her own production process more efficient she must depend as well on supplies of crabwood oil produced by other families at Three Brothers.
The challenges do not end there. After the crabwood oil is produced it must be transported to market at Kumaka by boat to be sold there. Gail-Ann has acquired a boat that allows her to cover the journey in an hour. At the same time she is able to move other farm produce to market.
The project, she says, owes much of its success to the support of Mangrove Project Director Annette Arjoon, Dr. Maxine Parris of IICA and the Voluntary Service Overseas. Her key diversification from oil to soap was facilitated by a visit here in 2006 by a technician from a UK-based hand-made soap company.
Gail-Ann says that much of the credit for the packaging and marketing of Waini Natural’s products is due to the support of Sterling Products Limited. The company, she says, has been instrumental in supporting the design of the packaging and labeling and has been key to the local distribution process. Participation in the annual GuyExpo as part of the Guyana Agro Processors Network has also helped to boost local distribution.
Further boosting sales in the region is dependent on improving production capacity and becoming a more reliable supplier. There are also costs associated with marketing which Waini Natural cannot yet afford. Still, Gail-Ann is encouraged by what she concedes is not more than a toehold in what is only a small section of the regional market. Still, it is an accomplishment that gives her something to aim at.