Under the supervision of the Institute of Applied Science and Technlogy (IAST), a virgin mountaintop on the road from Paramakatoi to Kato has been transformed into a modern, branded food processing complex. The facility was designed by the IAST, and a deliberate decision was taken to restrict the tendering process for construction of the facility to contractors residing in Paramakatoi.
The complex was built on land allocated by the Village Council of Paramakatoi to the Ministry of Indigenous Peoples Affairs, in an area roughly measuring 500 feet by 300 feet. In a matter of months, this site was cleared, ploughed, fenced and the project buildings constructed.
The buildings are all painted bright red, with green trims and roofs, reminiscent of the tomatoes which are the focus of the project. The fence is painted in white, yellow and green, symbolic of the important resources for the project: sunlight, fresh water and the arable land required to grow green crops.
The entire complex is powered by a solar panel system supplied by the Canada-based Greenheart Tree Energy. Professor Suresh Narine indicated how impressed the IAST has been with several of the locally based contractors, many of whom used entirely indigenous labor forces. In particular, Mr. Christopher Cheong and Mr. Stephen Balkaran, both locally based contractors, were singled out for completing their projects on time and within budget and according to specifications.
In addition, the IAST team was loud in praise for the Greenheart Tree Energy Company. According to the IAST, the company completed their part of the project in record time and within a budget that was almost 50% lower than any other provider.
Furthermore, the equipment supplied was provided with the best warranty in the market, and the company has remain engaged in monitoring the performance of the system remotely and in providing engineering solutions to challenges encountered.
The approach taken by aircraft coming in to land at the Paramakatoi Airstrip allows visitors to be greeted by the neatly laid out facility, like a beacon of progress and prosperity that is a harbinger of what is to come to the region, if this approach is managed well and emulated elsewhere in the hinterland.
The facility consists of a dormitory, built to accommodate scientific staff from the IAST who maintain a scientific and management presence continually at the facility, a state of the art, HACCP (Hazardous Analysis Critical Control Points)-compliant Processing Facility, a Solar Drying Facility and several ancillary buildings such as secured storage, security hut, water storage and trestles for gravity supply of water to the Dormitory, Processing Facility and drip irrigation system.
The scientists have been very thoughtful in the design – the complex is laid out in a manner which allows facile handling of security, chain of custody of fresh tomatoes and the processed Sundried Tomatoes as well as the utilization of the facility as a multi-farmer complex for the growing of a percentage of the tomato crop right on-site. Several of the larger trees present on the site were also saved, so that the complex fits into the natural environment in a manner which helps to communicate the central brand attributes: Green, Sustainable Co-Existence with Nature, Cooperative Effort and Community Development.
The project benefits from an Advisory Board, Chaired by Professor Narine, with representatives from six Ministries: the Ministry of Indigenous Peoples Affairs, the Ministry of Finance represented by Mr. Miguel Choo-Kang, Ministry of the Presidency represented by Ms. Leslyn Lowe, Ministry of Business represented by Ms. Unchenna Gibson, Ministry of Agriculture represented by Dr. Oudho Homenauth, of NAREI and Ministry of Social Protection represented by Ms. Perlina Gifth.
This board is charged with setting vision, evaluating progress, representing the project’s interests to their home Ministries and assisting with infrastructural and other funding from within their home Ministries for the project. Members are also responsible for ensuring that the project adheres to wider strategic directions for the sector as expressed and deployed by their home ministries.
A central node of the project is the Paramakatoi Agricultural Cooperative (PAC), which was recently formed with assistance from the Ministry of Social Protection through its Chief Cooperative Officer, Ms. Perlina Gifth. The PAC was initially formed with 58 members on March 20, 2017. This number has grown to approximately 70 members by March 30, 2017.
The Cooperative is focused on the agricultural production node of the project – its members must be active farmers engaged in the cultivation of tomatoes. The farmers are constrained to grow seedlings of specific varieties (Heat Master and Mongol) supplied by NAREI, and to follow the programs for husbandry and strict adherence to no use of synthetic fertilizers established by NAREI.
In Paramakatoi, NAREI’s contribution to the project is through the interventions of two outstanding Agriculturists – Ms. Selpha Simon and Mr. Marlon Williams. Ms Simon is a graduate from a Cuban University, the recipient of a Government of Guyana scholarship, who selected to return and assist her home community rather than take up a job in Georgetown or elsewhere.
Mr. Williams is a graduate from the Guyana School of Agriculture. Professor Narine was loud in praise of these two Indigenous Guyanese; “Selpha and Marlon represent to me the realization of the massive brain potential that resides in the Indigenous youth of this nation, a latent force which, if cultivated and empowered, represents the most potent fulcrum to transform Indigenous lives and futures in Guyana.”
The PAC is the only organization that can supply tomatoes to the Paramakatoi Agro-Processing Facility, which is managed by the Institute of Applied Science and Technology, for a period of five years. The processing facility is owned by the Ministry of Indigenous People’s Affairs, but the Ministry has no role in its management, other than at the Advisory Board level.
The other important organization in the project is the soon to be formed Pakaraima Flavours Incorporated, a corporate entity which shall be wholly owned by the Paramakatoi Agricultural Cooperative. This corporate entity will be responsible for the processing, packaging, marketing, sales and accountability of the Sundried Tomatoes, Salad Dressings and any other derived products.
Pakaraima Flavours Inc. will have a formal agreement with IAST to provide operational management of its business for a period of five years, over which there will be intensive training of Indigenous personnel from the communities involved. After five years, the mature business shall then be taken completely over by the trained personnel from the communities.
Under the current business plan, Pakaraima Flavours Inc (PFI) shall pay the Paramakatoi Agricultural Cooperative (PAC) members $20 per pound of fresh tomatoes, which are grown according to the guidelines set by NAREI, and which adhere to the quality standards jointly agreed to by the PFI, PAC and NAREI.
PFI, through its contracted managers, IAST, shall process, package and further process the fresh tomatoes into packaged sundried tomatoes and sundried tomato salad dressings. PFI, through its contractor the IAST, shall further be responsible for the sales and accounting of the business.
Profits generated by PFI, once processing, packaging, transportation and packaging costs are deducted, shall revert to the PAC entirely, with 10% being allocated to upkeep of the Processing Facility and 10% being allocated to NAREI for its continued production of seedlings and monitoring and intervention with the cultivation of the crop. The remaining profit shall then be divided up among the farmers of the cooperative, based on their individual percentages of fresh produce supplied.
Therefore, the initial $20 paid for fresh produce is simply an advance payment, followed by a further payment per pound once the added value of the produce is realized through sales. The project was designed in this manner to provide some initial payment to farmers for their labors, rather than having farmers wait the entire period for the value-added product to be sold in order to receive their entire payment. It therefore is intended to place some of the burden of the risk of the business onto the shoulders of Government, though a revolving fund, which is described below.
Government, through the Ministry of Indigenous People’s Affairs, allocated $59 Million of funding in 2016 and $11 Million of funding in 2017 to the project. The Canadian High Commission provided a grant to the project of $4, 013, 222. The total project funding therefore is $74, 013, 222. This sum is expected to cover the capital costs of the project, and to provide the PFI with an operational revolving fund, managed by the IAST. The revolving fund allows the project to be operationalized by providing operating capital.
The revolving fund is expected to be replenished annually, but cannot appreciate unless via special agreement between the PAC, PFI, Ministry of Indigenous Peoples Affairs and the Advisory Board of the project. Expansion through increased production and increased processing capacity in the future shall be funded entirely through the business efforts of the PFI and its parent entity, the PAC.
This structure, which was constructed by Professor Narine, is designed to transfer ownership, responsibility and risk to the Paramakatoi Agricultural Cooperative, in a cadenced manner, and through training in sound business practice and technical skills.
Professor Narine was especially careful to explain that the approach, whilst novel in some instances, is also one which requires all entities involved to be engaged and flexible.
“Make no small plans, for they lack the will to stir souls” Suresh Narine is fond of saying, but adds with a serious note, “grandiose plans require hard work and constancy of focus to work, and responsibility for their success must be shared by all beneficiaries or they fall apart.”
To be continued…
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