UNCAPPED: The event and the desired outcomes

This Sunday’s UNCAPPED Marketplace event, the fourth of its kind over the past two years is a modest but important tribute to public/private sector collaboration in an effort to shine a spotlight on the significant growth of the agro-processing sector. Beyond that, it points to the effort of the Guyana Manufacturing and Services Association (GMSA) to identify with and provide more robust support for the manufacturing sector, and particularly the small and medium-sized enterprises that have come through in impressive numbers in recent years as the real ‘stars’ of the agro processing sector.

On the government’s side such accomplishment as has been realized in the agro-processing sector has been due in significant measure to the supporting role played by the Guyana Marketing Corporation in pressing its Guyana Shop into product promotion service and in providing various forms of advice and technical and logistical support and entrepreneurial coaching to the emerging agro-processers. In circumstances where, over the years, our agro-processing sector has chugged along in ‘fits and starts’ and truth be told, has made disappointingly little progress in having our agro-produce make a mark on the external market the work done by the GMC in at least supporting the search for and identification of limited markets in rural communities and to a modest extent in sections of the regional market is commendable.

Part of the problem with events like UNCAPPED (and certainly in the instance of the GUYTIE event) is that the post-event evaluation is usually belated, relatively weak and unfocussed and invariably says little if anything about where the particular event takes us in terms of a wider journey towards some pre-determined goal. Beyond that, post-event evaluations rarely take meaningful account of the views of the participants in the events, which of course means that to some extent   reporting is done in a sort of vacuum.

There is, as well, the time-worn habit of post-event reports being ‘filed away’ and forgotten so that it does not seem that these add to any storehouse of knowledge and help to provide a road map for the way forward.

The Stabroek Business has made the point previously that the agro-processing sector – and notably the small operators in the sector – have done more than enough to warrant much more serious attention from  government, the various business support organizations as well as the banking sector in terms of technical support and financial backing. Much of the ‘burden’ in this regard now rests on the shoulders of a patently ill-equipped even if important Small Business Bureau. The banks, of course, have their rules, though somehow, one feels that commercial banks remain largely ‘off limits’ as far as emerging (micro and small) agro processors are concerned. As far as official backing for those micro and small agro processors are concerned there is still far too much dithering and a failure to arrive at a point where decisions designed to raise standards in the sector are made and actualized without prevarication and delay. Several months ago, for example, the GMSA was waxing warm about its ongoing discourses with a multi-ministerial government delegation which discourses included the desire for government to invest in the acquisition of multi-purpose plant and machinery that would support the production process in the agro processing sector. For many months now there has been no feedback on that initiative, its obvious importance to the agro processing sector notwithstanding.

One wonders, as well, just what it will take for us to recognize that Guyana (unlike other CARICOM territories, particularly Jamaica and Barbados) is yet to embark on an elaborate, sustained and global initiative to market the country and what it has to offer notwithstanding evidence right under our noses of the fact that investment in global marketing has actually worked for countries like Barbados and Jamaica. Should we not be asking, for example, whether the recent naming of Guyana as #1 “Best of Ecotourism” destination in the world at the ITB Berlin, the world’s leading travel and trade show might not have some kind of marketing value for the country as a whole and whether or not there may be plans to capitalize in such value as may exist?

Local institutions associated with the international marketing of Guyana – whether it be in terms of the country as a whole or in terms of any particular sector – are weak, under-resourced and as a consequence, seriously limited in their effectiveness. In the instance of tourism we are told that effective marketing will require, among other things, many millions. On the whole, it is not only a matter of money but also a case of expertise. Do we really have the skills possessing, among other things, the kind of sophisticated understanding of global markets that allow us the opportunity to roll out strategically designed marketing plans whose anticipated outcomes are rooted in an understanding of those markets? The answer, clearly, is no.

To return to the issue of agro processing it may or may not have been realised that global marketing and product promotion is growing increasingly competitive and that razor thin edges over the competition very often require both significant financial investments and considerable strategic thinking. Once we understand this, considerations like product presentation, packaging and labeling, compliance with international food safety standards and efficient supply delivery arrangements can make a major difference in the realm of success on the international marketplace.

So that while undertakings like the successive UNCAPPED events are thoroughly deserving of commendation for helping to energize the agro-processing sector it is high time that we cease to see the staging of the event as, in itself, an accomplishment without realising that viewed from the ‘feel good’ perspective that it provides, once its repetitiveness is not linked to clear incremental evidence that it is taking the sector forward then we must begin to move in the direction of turning it into much more.

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