After months of planning, research and marketing, the Pakaraima Flavours Sundried Tomato Project of Region Eight is off to a magnificent start. And those involved in the management of the initiative couldn’t be more pleased with the reaction of consumers as well as the local business environment.
It was in March 2017 that Kaieteur News highlighted this transformative project, which was launched by the Institute of Applied science and Technology (IAST), the Ministry of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs, the Ministry of Social Protection and the National Agricultural Research and Extension Institute in Paramakatoi, Region Eight.
The project, designed by IAST’s Director Professor, Suresh Narine at the behest of Minister within the Ministry of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs, the Valerie Garrido-Lowe, focuses on the organic growth of tomatoes in the fertile valleys of the North Pakaraimas. The tomatoes are processed and sundried in a modern food processing and sun-drying facility on the outskirts of Paramakatoi.
The sundried tomatoes are then processed into value-added Sundried Tomato Salad Dressings and Sundried Tomato Ketchup and packaged under the brand name Pakaraima Flavours. In January, the finished product became available on the shelves of local supermarkets. The well-packaged product can be found at Bounty Supermarkets, DSL Supermarkets, Massy Supermarket and the New GMC retail outlet. Several other retail outlets shall be carrying the product later in February.
The facility for the project was designed by IAST and funded by the Canadian High Commission and the Government of Guyana. Professor Narine explained that the project is an ambitious one, seeking to establish a number of firsts.
He said that these include: Establishment of the first modern sun-drying, post-harvest facility in hinterland Guyana; Introduction of the first organised, commercial, organic, farming of tomatoes in the Pakaraimas under a cooperative structure; Development of the first commercial Sundried Tomato Salad Dressings and Sundried Tomato Ketchup and establish the first modern food plant to do so; Establishment of distribution and marketing of the new products in such a manner that a revolving capital fund can be replenished in time to finance successive plantings and training of staff along the vertically integrated chain of activities to ensure maximum indigenous labour content.
Professor Narine also noted that the project seeks to build an enduring brand which promotes not only the products, but the Patamonas Peoples of the Pakaraimas, their way of life, Guyana’s natural environment and its identity.
The Professor posited that for such an ambitious project, no one agency is capable of solely delivering on all aspects of the vertically integrated process. He indicated that one of the most satisfying aspects of the project is the development of effective collaboration among the various ministries and agencies.
“Such projects require multiple stakeholder input and collaboration and in this, we have been very fortunate to have the indefatigable leadership efforts of Valerie Garrido-Lowe, Minister within the Ministry of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs.”
Several other ministries are involved in this project. They include: the Ministry of Social Protection, which provided leadership in the establishment of the cooperative and through the Board of Industrial Training provided food handlers training to members of the hinterland communities; the Ministry of Agriculture, which provided the agricultural design and implementation of the project through the National Agricultural Research and Extension Institute and the Ministry of State, to which the IAST reports.
Professor Narine explained that the project was at the stage now whereby one crop was planted and harvested, the cooperative has been established, the fresh tomatoes were successfully dried and transported to the IAST, a modern food processing plant has been procured and installed at the IAST and was used to produce the finished products and the products have been successfully deployed into the retail marketplace.
“This is still very much a fledgling project; despite having successfully navigated all aspects of deliverables, the real test of its viability and success is still to come,” Professor Narine noted, “as only 7, 276 lbs of fresh tomatoes were produced in the first crop, which will allow 3, 000 bottles of Ketchup and 3, 000 bottles of salad dressings to be produced. This is still very much a miniscule production scale and I am delighted that the collaboration among the various ministries and agencies has remained intact and strong, as our focus in 2018 is to produce 50,000 lbs of fresh tomatoes.”
Narine however pointed out that despite this small production number, that the sales of the finished products based on the number of units produced and price points will generate a profit of $1,076,280. Although the business plan of the project calls for 10% of the profits to be transferred to IAST and NAREI, each; both of these institutions have agreed to forego this payment and to transfer all profits back to the farmers in the cooperative.
Initially, the farmers were paid $20 per pound of fresh tomatoes supplied to the drying facility. Based on the projected profits and the number of pounds of fresh fruits initially supplied, the project was able to allocate an additional $148.91 per pound of fresh fruit supplied to the farmers, bringing the price per pound of fresh tomatoes in Paramakatoi to $168.91 per pound. On February 10, a team from IAST, the Ministry of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs and the Ministry of Social Protection visited Paramakatoi to disburse the additional funds to the farmers.
Kaieteur News understands that farmers would share the profit from the project, after 10 percent for NAREI and 10 percent for IAST (representing cost recovery for the inputs from the agencies) were extracted. However, almost all of the farmers expressed a pleasant surprise that they were receiving their additional payments so promptly. Broad smiles greeted the announcements of payment numbers for each individual farmer, based on the amount of fresh fruit supplied to the facility.
In her address to the farmers, Minister Garrido-Lowe thanked them for their belief in the project and for their hard work, and re-committed her efforts to continue to ground with them and to provide political leadership for the project and for the members of the North Pakaraima Communities.
Vice President Sydney Allicock reminded the farmers that it is important to remain focused on projects such as the Sundried Tomato Project, as these projects represent economic independence, stability, and the way to the Good Life. He expressed that the Government is focused not on delivering hand-outs to hinterland communities, but in helping to enable them to develop their own independent and culturally appropriate ways of earning.
One farmer, Ms. Adela Daniels, from the community of Bamboo Creek, was the best producing farmer, producing 745.8 lbs of fresh tomatoes. Ms. Daniels received a total payment of $125, 973 for tomatoes supplied – an initial payment of $14, 916 on delivery and on the 10th February, 2018, a payment of $111, 057 based on profitability of the project for the 2017 crop.
Whilst fresh tomatoes in Georgetown can vary in price from as high as $300 to as low as $30 per pound, there is no large scale market in Paramakatoi and surrounding communities for produce such as tomatoes as almost everyone farms. Therefore, for farmers to receive $168.91 per pound of tomatoes in these communities and for them to be able to supply as much of the fruit as they can produce and get paid for it is a very transformative.
Indeed, approximately $1,229,031 was injected into the community as direct sales from farmers. In addition, the facility currently employs 10 community members.
Narine explained to the farmers that as they increase production, the economies of scale will allow the venture to become even more profitable, so that the farmers will begin to receive even more per pound of fresh fruit supplied. Shortly after the farmers received their follow-on payments, an additional 35 farmers signed up to be part of the cooperative.
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