A report from Shulinab, South Rupununi in Region 9 released by the government’s Department of Public Information (DPI) on Saturday last was cause for cautious optimism, while being an example of how Guyana is still not getting it right with regard to the agricultural and small business industries.

According to the report, the Shulinab Women’s Group is “cashing in” on the “big business” of drying local fruit and sending it to Georgetown for sale at $1,000 per pound packaged in plastic bags. The group has been drying mangoes, oranges, tangerines and other citrus fruits and vegetables including peppers, pumpkin and tomatoes on a small scale. These products were previously going to waste because of a glut.

The women told the DPI that it was through the providence of social activist Sherlina Nageer that they were able to learn to use two dryers that the group owned. The dryers had been lying idle because the previous executive of the group, who had been using them, had for some reason not passed the knowledge on after they were voted out, according to the release.

Ms Nageer’s intervention not only resulted in the women grasping the skill, but she further arranged markets for the dried items and acted as the conduit between the women and their customers, some of whom have been purchasing the products in bulk. Ms Nageer’s action is a prime example of women helping women that ought to be recognised and emulated in all aspects of life.

Just last month this newspaper highlighted an Essequibo farmer, who desperately needs such an intervention. Roy Boodhoo plants 131 acres of citrus, coconuts and other fruit, which he only sells fresh. The report indicated that as a result there was a tremendous amount of wastage, since Mr Boodhoo faces difficulties finding and reaching markets. However, there is hope for a turnaround at Mr Boodhoo’s farm at some point, as his offspring has begun to look at agro-processing, the report said.

Meanwhile, the Rupununi dried fruit venture, which the women said they have been pursuing for seven months was strangely not highlighted during the visit of government officials, including President David Granger, to Shulinab and other South Rupununi communities in September last year for Heritage Day celebrations. Nor was it mentioned last month when Minister of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs Sydney Allicock handed over some $3 million in grants to villages there for green, sustainable community projects. If drying fruit and vegetables that would otherwise have rotted on the ground is not a green, sustainable community project, then what is?

Instead, a release from the DPI on Minister Allicock’s visit spoke of the grants being used for sewing machines and gas stoves. There is nothing wrong with this, of course, if these items are being used to provide skills training that would lead to employment and/or entrepreneurship and quite possibly, they are what the residents requested. But there has long been a need for women’s skills to expand beyond the stereotypical sewing, cooking, knitting and craft that are often tossed at them.

The release did say that the women’s group is “working on a proposal to send to the Ministry of Social Protection to benefit from funding through the Sustainable Livelihood and Entrepreneurial Development programme”. They hope to expand the building where they operate their drying venture, improve their packaging and engage in other business ventures.

One hopes that part of this expansion includes them eschewing the plastic bags they were seen proudly posing with in a DPI photo and using more sustainable packaging. Paper bags and cardboard containers, which are biodegradable, would make this venture truly green, but the women would need access to same as well as to benefit from the technology that would allow them to use them effectively.

It was quite disappointing to read a Guyana Marketing Corporation press release last week which stated that its Agri-Business Development Officer Johan David and its General Manager Ida Sealey-Adams were pushing for extending the range of plastic bottles and tubs currently being utilised by agro-processors in Guyana. This in 2019 when the danger of plastic to the environment is well known, and many countries are moving away from its use. This in a country whose president is consistently touting a green agenda.

Either there is an astounding lack of vision still in the agro-processing industry or this is a clear case of economic schizophrenia. Whichever it is, these are issues that need to be addressed and soon.

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