Yonette McPherson typifies the dogged determination of the thousands of Guyanese comprising the agro-processing community, whose pursuits are shaped, mostly, by a necessity to make a living that is both honest and adequate. The challenge is many times greater in a country where – unlike elsewhere in the hemisphere – attention to agro processing is limited mostly to such efforts as are made in domestic kitchens, the critical shortcoming being the failure to invest in equipment that would make the task of turning agro produce into pickles, jams, sauces and other condiments easier.
These days, Yonette has ‘graduated,’ she from vending cooked food in Beterverwagting ten years ago, to becoming a genuine agro processor though she admits that her processing is still to go beyond a kitchen specially configured for the purpose.
Eat to Live, the name of her registered business, specializes in a range of achars utilizing gooseberry, tamarind, sweet mango and golden apple in addition to which she also produces ground seasoning and pepper sauce. It is a journey that has consumed the 43 year-old mother of five, imbuing her with an enlightening perspective on the manufacturing sector, its weaknesses and its prospects.
We met her at last Sunday’s UncappeD Marketplace at the Providence Stadium, one of scores of agro processors trading in modest amounts of product whilst hoping to make bigger deals in limited spaces under tents set up by the Guyana Manufacturing & Services Association. As with almost all of the products on display on Sunday, Yonette’s products are enhanced by an upgraded packaging and labeling regime that has been the outstanding accomplishment of the agro processing industry for many years; and Yonette does not hesitate to declare her belief that improved packaging has positioned local agro processors to lay a legitimate claim to offering a quality of product as good as, if not better than what is imported.
At a personal level, she says that improved packaging and labeling for her product has created in her an enhanced sense of self-esteem. That, coupled with the fact that her products are now certified by the Government Analyst Food & Drugs Department for sale on the local market has imbued in her the notion that the sky could be the limit.
These days she is focused on further improving product quality, her marketing strategy and acquiring the infrastructure to extend the efficiency of her operations. Insofar as marketing is concerned, Yonette is understandably impatient with the pace at which local food outlets are embracing what the local agro-processing sector has to offer even though she believes that events like the UncappeD Marketplace move us closer to that point where market acceptance of products like her own will match that of the better-known imported brands.
When we asked about the commercial success of last Sunday’s event, Yonette made the point that while she had benefitted from some measure of patronage, it was fortuitous that the event organizers had afforded the vendors spaces free of cost, since she believes that one measure of the extent of the growth of the agro-processing sector is the fact that the vast majority of exhibitors can ill-afford the costs usually associated with participating in public events.
At last Sunday’s Providence event her attention was attracted to a range of bottles being offered for sale by Weiting & Richter, her thoughts shifting to how she might use these to further enhance her product presentation. Dreams of an export market may still be some distance away but Yonette says that her life in business has always been about chasing dreams.
She returns to the theme of the need to grow the local agro processing market though she believes that local agro processors must provide persuasive evidence that their products are worthy of market consideration.
Like so many other small operators in the agro processing sector Yonette is constantly challenged by the gap between her ambitions and her financial limitations. Her immediate limited expansion plan requires an estimated $4 million dollars and she plans to have another conversation with the Small Business Bureau. She is, she says, grateful for the support of a husband whom she says has always been involved with her in taking business risks. These days, she is neither patient nor wildly optimistic, her biggest asset being, she believes a ‘plain and simple’ refusal to give up.
Potential buyers can reach Yonette at her 43 West Road Sparendaam residence and at telephone number 684-4381.