While saying the coconut industry can potentially increase foreign currency earnings through the export of its myriad products, Minister of Business Dominic Gaskin yesterday stressed that now is the time to get serious about the “miracle fruit.”
He made these remarks at the opening ceremony for the Guyana Coconut Festival, which was held at the Arthur Chung Conference Centre at Liliendaal, East Coast Demerara last evening.
More than 65 booths are on display at the exhibition, with products such as virgin coconut oil, beauty products like body scrubs and scalp conditioners, as well as decorations and hats. Exhibitors from Suriname, Brazil, Mexico and India are among them.
The festival, which will close on Sunday, was part of the Coconut Awareness Week (CAW) activities, which started last Saturday.
“We cannot sustainably grow our economy unless we constantly increase the money entering our economy from external sources,” the minister said.
He contended that coconut can also make a greater contribution to the economy if better ways are found to manage all aspects of the industry.
“Individually, we have been exporting in the vicinity of US$5M of coconut products annually for the past two years,” he said.
He noted that the global demand for coconut has been increasing at a rate of 10 percent annually, while global production is only increasing at around two percent.
He said that there is a need to “plant more, grow more and reap more, process more and export more coconuts…. If we are to get serious about coconuts, we need to do so now.”
According to him, “Foreign earnings are what we need to drive our economy. We cannot sustainably grow our economy unless we constantly increase the money entering our economy from external sources.”
Gaskin told the gathering too that “increasing our local consumption… is something we can all be a part of. We cannot continue to wean ourselves off of our wholesome homegrown foods in favour of cheaper mass produced and genetically modified food from faraway places.”
In terms of enhancing the tourist experience, he said, the coconut can add fun and flavour and outdoor enjoyment to any visitor.
“We are looking for a more diversified economy and that means less reliance on the traditional handful of commodities and more reliance on a wider range of goods and services,” Gaskin said.
He noted that the purpose of the CAW is, as the name suggests, “to sharpen our awareness of this giant fruit and inform us some more about its cultivation, its uses and its role in our society and in our economy.”
He also read a brief message by Minister of Agriculture Noel Holder, who, according to him, is currently attending a high level meeting in Mexico.
“This coconut festival is just one of many festivals that can be held in Guyana to showcase the possibilities for expanding our economy,” part of the message read.
Prime Minister, Moses Nagamootoo, who opened the festival, said that in his estimation it represented the “recovery of lost esteem” as he described the coconut as having a “rounded personality with great ancestry” that went through so much abuse and denigration.
He said that Guyana did not have the technology to advertise coconut or the technology to convert it into exotic oils, lipsticks and cream or to put it on the international market.
As a result, he said, “We were told that coconut had no quality and was not wholesome for our bodies because there were other types of oils that were superior.”
He recalled that he grew up seeing his mother and the grannies massaging babies with coconut oil to prevent “bowed legs.” He also spoke about enjoying the many uses of coconut as a child and of even making coconut boats.
Referring to the Lady Coco, the symbol for the coconut festival, he said, it tells more than just the respect for women who have been trading coconut brooms and other products like sugar cakes in the market for years.
Donald Sinclair, Director General of Tourism and Chairman of the Coconut Festival Committee, said the intention is to make the industry sustainable by publishing a magazine compiling all the wisdom that has been gathered in the lead up to the event.
He mentioned that Lady Coco was launched on Sunday to pay tribute to the work and contribution of women in coconut development.
The exhibition continues from noon today, while an event titled the Coco Splash, which would entail a fusion of fashion and music, would be held this evening.
Persons who have made significant contributions to the coconut industry would be honoured at an award ceremony tomorrow evening, while the winners of a painting competition would also be announced.
Former Tourism Minister Cathy Hughes, in an invited comment, told Stabroek News that she was excited that the coconut festival has finally started, while noting that it actually began since she was Minister of Tourism.
Hughes, who was at the time sampling the coconut ice cream at the festival, said, “The big product is coconut oil and I laughed at that fact because it has been part of our culture for a long time… So we just want to take it to the next level and make sure more Guyanese can get enjoyment in the field and we can bring more foreign exchange in.”
The CAW, which was launched on Saturday October 15 to focus on the coconut, its variety of uses, its economic and creative possibilities, saw International Trade Centre (ITC) representatives from Switzerland and from Barbados.
A Roadmap for Coconut Industry Development in Guyana that contains the collaborative work done by the National Stakeholders Platform and ITC with the Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute (CARDI) over the last 16 months, was also launched on Thursday.
The week of activities also included a speedboat parade in the Pomeroon to mark River Appreciation Day on October 15, a Coconut Walkathon was held on October 16, while a Coconut Summit and Coconut Fashion Show was also held yesterday.
The opening ceremony also featured the Coconut Festival theme song that was performed by local singer Vanilla and a dance, titled titled ‘Dance of the Coconut,’ from the Indian Culture Centre.