Guyana is a country with no shortage of experts – a conversation in a minibus, at the street corner, or in the line at Church’s Chicken or Qik Serv Banks outlets, is certain to unearth at least one expert. Ask any Guyanese – they are replete with answers related to political solutions, business ideas, development, Donald Trump, and COVID-19 remedies. Usually, they will tell you why something locally made cannot work, or be quick to point to attempts made which did not overnight, become a success.
Sadly, we are a nation of experts who still squat on the doorstep of foreign manufacturers, proudly wearing the brand name insignias of our mental enslavement; oblivious that we are willing accomplices to our own underdevelopment. We don’t know, or can’t be bothered to learn, that the same brands we slavishly consume were developed over decades, enabled by trade strategies of their home countries and benefit the economies of their home countries. The intellectuals will point to our colonial past and learned consumptive behavior – but this country has not been a colony for 54 years. It is time Guyanese begin to think for themselves.
There are, of course, a few enduring and prominent examples of home-grown products par excellence: El Dorado and XM Rums, Limacol, Demerara Sugar, 300 different varieties of delectable pepper sauce…one runs out of the list quickly. Interestingly, the Rum and Sugar industries were established by foreigners who exploited and dislocated our peoples during the scourge of slavery and indentureship. For certain, we have managed to put a uniquely Guyanese imprimatur on these products.
But they evolved over a very long time. Therefore, it is a source of disappointment that our plentiful experts expect that local products must overnight overtake foreign brands. It is an attitude which is born out of an ignorance of the life cycle of mature brands and the relationship that locally produced products have with their own quality of life. It is also born out of lack of self-respect and self-reliance.
Kaieteur News has, over the past seven weeks, focused on a series of innovative local products brought to market by the Institute of Applied Science and Technology (IAST): Morning Glory Rice Cereals, Rupununi Essence, Luxury Facial Cleansers and Pakaraima Flavours, Sundried Tomato Ketchup, and Salad Dressings. We have deliberately highlighted the life cycle of these products and tried to also, through our reporting, further inform Guyanese of their appeal and availability. Last week, we highlighted how a science and discovery-led indigenous crop, long valued by our Indigenous Peoples, held promise for a modern nutraceutical product.
In today’s continued focus on Powerhouse Purple Potatoes from the Rupununi Savannahs and the high Pakaraima and Kanuku Mountains, we highlight some of the elements that must go into creating an entirely new product which cannot rely on a foreign-seeded process or cultivation.
We have highlighted how, working with Indigenous Peoples of Guyana and with Trent University, the IAST was able to identify that Purple Sweet Potatoes grown by Guyana’s Indigenous Peoples and used to prepare the local drink “Fly” or “Tonic” contains large amounts of nutraceutical compounds beneficial to health. The compounds, called anthocyanins, contribute immensely to circulatory health and cancer-fighting functions in the body as well as a host of other important health benefits.
The discovery of the high levels of anthocyanins was exciting and promising – but this raised a series of questions: how many varieties of Purple Sweet Potatoes exist in Guyana? How do the levels of anthocyanins in each variety vary? What are the relative yields? Can a tasty drink be developed without alcohol content to deliver the health benefits to consumers? What infrastructure would be needed to enable this? What business models can be employed?
What competitive products existed? What pricing strategy could be used? What marketing strategies would need to be employed? What nutritional labelling requirements would there be? What further scientific evidence would be required for labelling and regulatory approvals? How would the Institute convince its stakeholders to get involved – Government, Indigenous Communities, Regulatory Agencies, Investors, Marketers, Manufacturers, the Public, etc.? Can a profit model be developed which allows Indigenous farmers to be the primary beneficiaries of such a product, given that the knowledge which created the potential stemmed from Indigenous Peoples?
Can a robust supply chain be developed in the absence of enabling roads, crop insurance, land development? As the proverbial Guyanese expert can see, the above list of non-exhaustive challenges must be overcome for entirely new products to be developed. And when developed, the products will need the consumers’ support – a chance over the foreign products which dominate the marketplace.
The institute has, in fact, over the past several years, developed answers and approaches to these challenges. The number of varieties has been studied; the relative amounts of anthocyanins present in each and the relative yields have been studied and the results are being finalized; the cost of production has been worked out; the cost of post-harvest processing has been worked out; part of the infrastructure that will be required has been constructed; a product has been fully developed and over a series of market consultations, perfected; labelling has been approved; product packaging has been designed; the product has been tested in elected markets across the country; a business plan has been developed.
This is a remarkable amount of work, spanning diverse disciplines. The IAST must be congratulated for having the courage and perspicacity to undertake such a complex design and product development. Certainly, the experience it has gained in bringing the other products mentioned above to the market would have enabled institute staff to gain the relevant experience to attempt this higher value product design.
Kaieteur News is well aware that many other similar institutions in other countries do not function at such multiple levels that the IAST has demonstrated it can effectively function at. This is the most elegant answer to the naysaying expert – here is an entirely local institution daring to compete at tertiary levels. Not only can local “wuk,” it can lead our development if efforts such as this are replicated.
The Institute is now calling on investors interested in partnering with it and the Indigenous Peoples in Regions Eight and Nine to get in touch to discuss SAK: A Guyanese Nutraceutical Drink from Powerhouse Purple Sweet Potatoes. “Is we own!”
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