On Sunday last, scores of local producers came together in a single space for yet another vigorous effort by the Guyana Manufacturing and Services Association (GMSA) to propel small businesses forward. The event, though heavily supported by the government, could still be seen as the private sector’s response to the agonising fumbling of such efforts by successive administrations by way of GuyExpo and last year’s wishy-washy replacement, the Guyana Trade and Investment Exposition (GuyTIE), which was held at the Marriott Hotel and saw attendance of only some ten small business owners.
Dubbed Uncapped Marketplace, the GMSA event, which was dominated by agro-producers and processors and manufacturers of jewellery, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, art and craft among other local produce, was held at the National Stadium, Providence. Several big businesses were also represented as they have been in the past, being members of the GMSA, including the country’s two giant beverage producers, Banks DIH Ltd and Demerara Distillers Ltd.
As is par for the course with these types of activities, there was also entertainment in the form of music and games and food and drinks. The organisers and participants would have wanted the largest crowd turnout possible as it would seem that to be deemed successful, events of this sort must have hordes of people in attendance.
There is no doubt that local producers have invested much time, energy and funds in packaging and presentation. A far cry from what obtained years ago, many of the agro-processed products on display were attractive in terms of the materials, colours and typeface used in packaging as well as the sizes, making them noticeably accessible to all comers. Of course, ‘Made in Guyana’ was ubiquitous giving rise to a sense of patriotic pride among many of those browsing. Tasting was also available and was often followed by exclamations of awe. The true test, however, would be how much of this eventually translates into local sales.
By no means is this to suggest that any individual one-time purchases that may have been made on Sunday last could be a measure of anything but instant appreciation. The pride and awe, if they were not short-lived, should and must translate into such major brand changing that supermarkets and shopkeepers would be forced to stock ‘Made in Guyana’ products because of the demand. Because this has not happened yet, though one sincerely hopes that it will and the sooner the better, Uncapped, GuyTIE and similar annual excursions are like peak seasons for local produce.
In the meantime, unfortunately, Guyana’s food import bill is in fact the real uncapped. Container loads of unnecessary items like water, plantain chips and canned meats among others land on the country’s wharves daily. Products of uncertain quality, some labelled in foreign languages take pride of place in the markets and on the shelves of stores, while one could count on the fingers of one hand the shops that stock ‘Made in Guyana’ produce, much of which is not available throughout the country. If this is not strange and sad, then what is?
Sadder still, is the fact that local produce is often left to rot for want of markets with farmers taking huge financial hits, while imports of concentrates loaded with chemicals and additives, and canned and frozen genetically modified foods end up on the tables in our restaurants and homes.
Lack of financial sense aside, many of these so-called food imports amount to little less than poison, the effects of which may or may not be instantly noticeable. But perhaps the worst of it all is that the tendency by some locals to reach for foreign products first, displays a total lack of confidence in ‘Made in Guyana’ and ‘Grown in Guyana’ products. This is surely an anomaly. One doubts that there is anywhere else in the world, where the natives reject homegrown and good in favour of that which comes from a foreign land and often, in a world where faux is prevalent, should be treated with suspicion. There is local phrase often used to describe that which is ridiculous: ‘only in Guyana’. Perhaps it fits this situation.
A few of the producers at Uncapped have said that they were approached by foreign companies seeking to purchase their items for export and some are already available in overseas markets. There is a certain amount of irony in the fact that is laudable, but that there is a general lack of consternation over locals spurning these same products. It is dumbfounding to be sure and it is entirely possible that political conditioning over the years might have resulted in some amount of mind altering. There is really no other explanation for it.