– applying science and technology, while respecting a people’s culture
(Part 2 of the feature on the Paramakatoi’s Sundried Tomato Agro-Processing Project)
When undergoing projects in communities with distinct cultures, understanding and engaging in a culturally respectful manner with community members is just as important as the effort spent on the science, technology and engineering that these projects involve.
This observation was made by Professor Suresh Narine, the Director of the Institute of Applied Science and Technology (IAST), while speaking about IAST’s Paramakatoi Sundried Tomato Agro-Processing Project, and its work in Indigenous communities.
According to Professor Narine, engaging with these cultures sometimes requires changing an entire commercial model to suit the cultural practices of the communities within which the projects are located. Central to this is the entire concept of Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC).
To this end, after the IAST examined the structural, labor, energy, capital and transportation barriers existing in the remote communities of Paramakatoi, Bamboo Creek and Mountain Foot, and recommended the use of solar drying and tomatoes as a crop, Minister within the Ministry of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs, Valerie Garrido-Lowe, Professor Narine and the IAST team had several consultations with the communities, so as to ensure that the models being proposed were in consonance with the desires of the residents.
These meetings, led by Minister Garrido-Lowe, allowed the project to be specifically tailored to the cultural and other realities and constraints of the communities.
Professor Narine explained that for this project, science did not lead the effort, but rather was harnessed to provide solutions for a model for community development, crafted in collaboration with the target communities. When this model had been agreed upon by the residents, and the Ministry of Indigenous Peoples Affairs and the IAST, then the scientific work began in earnest.
The IAST has one of the most advanced laboratories in the region for organic and analytical chemistry and materials characterization and several impressive pilot scale facilities.
One of these, the Food and Drug Approved Food and Feed Pilot Facility, was instrumental in enabling this project. However, Professor Narine was loud in praise of his entire staff, many of whom are not formally trained in Food Science, but under the able leadership of the Head of the Food and Feed Department, Mr. Sewpersaud Manohar, and the Deputy Director, Mr. Deonarine Jagdeo, the IAST was able to rise to the challenge, and in a mere matter of months, perfect the technologies and formulations required to ensure that value-added, branded and marketable products were developed to go hand in hand with the anticipated investment in Paramakatoi by central government. The IAST developed a comprehensive project proposal, articulating the scientific and technological aspects of the project, the commercial facility and infrastructure, the economic model and business plant, management model and employment and training profile. This proposal was then used by Minister Garrido-Lowe in lobbying Central Government and the Canadian High Commission for funding for the project.
Professor Narine was insistent that the life cycle of such projects be discussed, as the pathway from science, technology and innovative ideas to successful commercial and developmental projects.
Furthermore, that pathway, he said, cannot be even attempted without the requisite infrastructure, funding, and skilled scientific and technology commercialization staff. Professor Narine lamented the paucity of such trained personnel in Guyana, whilst highly appreciative of the efforts of the staff at the IAST.
He posited that Guyana still needs to urgently utilize policy as an instrument for the harnessing of science and natural resources for the sustainable development of its peoples and resources.
Given that the entire Caribbean region receives less than 0.3% of the Foreign Direct Investment in the world, and Guyana even less, Professor Narine was upbeat about Government’s investments in projects such as this one, and believes this bodes well for the utilization of the anticipated petroleum revenues in investment in projects which are sustainable, green, and developmentally transformative.
However, he is of the belief that there is a rapidly shrinking window of time and opportunity to craft a robust policy with respect to the utilization of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) for sustainable development and the involvement of Government in public private partnerships to bootstrap investment in the commercialization of innovation in green and sustainable industries.
Such a policy, he articulated, would be specific with respect to the enablement of science and technology infrastructure, be specific with respect to programs to encourage science training from as early as nursery school, and be specific with respect to taxation policies related to investments by the private sector in technology-driven green and sustainable commercial ventures.
He was upbeat that both of Guyana’s recent administrations have demonstrated that they are willing to invest in science and technology as a tool for development: referring to the funding of the Anna Regina Rice Cereal plant by the previous administration and the funding of several transformative projects such as the Paramakatoi Sundried Tomato Project, a developing project to build a Marmalade Factory in the Region Nine village of Hiowa and the highly successful Rupununi Essence Project by the current administration.
However, he is insistent that Guyana can utilize the learning from these several projects to use policy as a tool to ensure that the entire lifecycle from science-drive technological innovation to effective sustainable commercial community development projects be streamlined.
Professor Narine pointed out that the political cycle is only five years, whilst the life cycle of sustainable development projects are several multiples of this time period. Therefore, transformative change must rely on robust policies which can survive political changes and therefore not result in development faltering as a result of changes in the political landscape.
At the urging of Professor Narine, we end this segment with a focus on the two key technical individuals who spearheaded this project within the IAST. Co-incidentally, both of these scientists spent their formative years in the village of Cove and John on the East Coast of Demerara and had a remarkably similar educational trajectory. Deputy Director Deonarine Jagdeo and Head of Department Sewpersaud Manohar both attended Cove and John Primary and Secondary Schools and were both heavily influenced by their immersion in the Cove and John Hindu Ashram. The focus of the Ashram’s teachings, by its revered Swami Shiveshwarnanda, on selfless service, or SEWA, seemed to have prepared both these gentlemen well for careers in science and technology in the public sector. Mr. Jagdeo lost his father when he was the age of 18 years, and assumed significant responsibilities within his family as a result. Mr. Manohar lost his father much later, at the age of 36, but assumed similar responsibilities in his close knit family. Both of them, on graduating secondary school, taught at the Cove and John Secondary school for five years. Mr. Jagdeo was encouraged to attend the University of Guyana by Justice Nandram Kissoon and Swami Shiveshwarnanda, the latter also encouraging Mr. Manohar to do the same. Whilst Mr. Jagdeo pursued studies in Civil Engineering, Mr. Manohar pursued a degree in Chemistry. Both of the scientists credit mentors in their academic careers – for Mr. Jagdeo, it was Mr. Parbhu Dyalsingh, a high school Geography teacher, whilst for Mr. Manohar it was Mr. Alfred Bhulai, his Physical Chemistry Lecturer at the University of Guyana.
Mr. Jagdeo spent two years of his working career working as an engineer on a project to replace Guyana’s bridges – he is particularly proud of his involvement with the rebuilding of the Mahaica and Mahaicony bridges, in the interim between his Diploma and four year engineering degree.
On completion of his engineering degree, he joined the IAST and under the mentorship of Professor Narine, he has moved from an entry level engineer, to head of department to Deputy Director (technology) and now to overall Deputy Director of the institute. In this capacity, he is integrally involved in all aspects of the IAST’s work. Indeed, Professor Narine indicated that Mr. Jagdeo’s value to the institution, and therefore the country, was immense, given his innovative approach and many years of experience. He has been at the IAST for 11 years.
Mr. Manohar, who Professor Narine describes as a bona fide genius, incubated with several of Guyana’s top companies. He was first employed as a quality assurance chemist at the Beharry Group of Companies, in their pasta division. There, he gained valuable experience, being heavily involved in the commissioning of a brand new pasta processing line. He credits Mr. Raymond Ramsaroop, then Quality Assurance Manager and who is the holder of an MSc. in Food Science, with sparking a sustained interest in and passion for the field of Food Science.
After five years at the Beharry’s, he then joined the New GPC as the process supervisor for their liquid pharmaceutical line, before joining the IAST as Head of the Food and Feed Department in 2013. Professor Narine credits Mr. Manohar for the rapid development of at least six different food products at the IAST, and declares that Mr. Manohar has been instrumental in realizing the vision for the institution.
Kaieteur News joins Professor Narine in saluting these two gentlemen, both of whom claim that their motivation for what they do stems from the immense satisfaction that is gained from projects they work on being implemented to the benefit of Guyana and its peoples.
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