President David Granger: This is the longest day in Lethem and it is good that it should be so because we are opening the door to a new economic future for this great region. Ministers of the Government; Ambassador of Guyana to the Federative Republic of Brazil, George Talbot; Members of the Diplomatic Corps; Chairman of the Rupununi Region, Mr. Brian Allicock; Mayor of the town of Lethem Mr. Carlton Beckles; visiting Mayors; Members of the National Assembly; Toshaos of other villages; regional officials; municipal officials; invitees; exhibitors, particularly from the various communities in this great region; members of the media; ladies and gentlemen.
I think we heard some very sobering presentations from Mr. Mosier Barito and Mr. King and I don’t think we should just ignore some of the comments they made as being introductory remarks. I think there is a lot that we can take away from their contributions and I’m sure the Minister of Business was paying attention because I interacted with the Regional Chamber of Commerce and Industry soon after we came into office and one of my own questions was why isn’t the RCCI better represented here today?
But I know that the Minister of Business did engage and I would like to ask him to engage even deeper and further and I will come to that engagement a little later. As I said this morning, this is the largest region in Guyana; it is bigger than Costa Rica but the population density is very low- only 4.4 persons per square kilometre. As other speakers have pointed out, the Rupununi has different land forms: part of the highlands, part of the grasslands, part of the wetlands, and part of the rainforest.
We met today too, to look not only at the town of Lethem as we did this morning but also at the entire region and we want to promote this idea of a Regional Agriculture and Commercial Exhibition so that all fifty villages or more, the satellite communities, will be involved; horizontally, vertically, all the levels of government will be involved; municipal, regional and central government and, to some extent, our international representatives. So horizontally we spread across the region and vertically we spread from households’ right through the municipalities, the region and to central government but also incorporating those largely semi-autonomous villages which Mr. King referred to; they mustn’t be left out of this equation.
They have to be fully integrated even though they don’t come directly under the central government or the regional administration. We want to make sure that as I said this morning that the rising tide lifts all boats and this region cannot develop without developing the villages. So we speak not only of the RACE- the Regional Agriculture and Commercial Exhibition, but we also speak about the plan of action for regional development; and I would like to ask, I would like to urge, business persons to come together in that Regional Chamber of Commerce and Industry and let us use that as a civil society vehicle to help to develop the economy of this region. Let us use the tools of collaboration rather than confrontation to develop this region.
This morning we spoke about the importance of capital towns; the importance of Lethem as a hub to provide the services to all of these villages. I am glad that you’re adopting some form of regional flag; some form of symbols. I think these symbols will help to bring solidarity to bring the people from this vast region, from three different Indigenous nations; from the north Macushis to the deep south, the real deep south, Wai-Wai and the Wapisiana. It will give you a sense of identity so that you don’t feel that you belong only to a village or a particular ethnic group, but you belong to a region and that that region as a whole will take you forward, will help you to become prosperous and will help to give you a good life.
Now I don’t presume to be an expert in this region. I don’t know if anyone would call himself or herself an expert, but I have been through many villages, maybe about forty of the villages. I had some rough times; when you’re in opposition you get some rough times you know. I think Mr. Sydney Allicock and Dr. George Norton could tell you. A lot of doors are closed to your face; not behind you, to your face, but we are together now. We are over eighteen and we could roll with the punches, but what we saw was not very inspiring.
We have been to Awarewanau; we saw computer centres without computers. We have been to Karaudarnau and we have spoken with sheep farmers, thank you, Mosier. We have spoken with sheep farmers; they would like to increase the size of their herds or their flocks but they have no refrigeration; they have no transportation to get their meat to the market. We have been to Moco-Moco; we’ve driven over mangoes, the same mangoes that the Mayor spoke about – even pig deciding which mango he gon eat, but we would like somebody to convert those mangoes into mango juice because when you come here to Lethem you’re buying Industria la Brasilia; you’re buying bottled mango juice from one of the richest countries in the world, the BRICS.
We have been to Aranaputa and we know the problem about marketing the peanuts. We have been to Yupukari where they try to get water to support their crops during the dry season. We have been to St. Ignatius, which used to be a hub of producing cashew nuts; so there is no doubt that Rupununi has the potential and I would like to urge that the region and the central government and the municipal administration here to work together to overcome some of those problems.
As I said this morning, Local Government Elections should have given us a dividend; it is not just about putting a few people in the office and calling yourself Honourable or Worship. That is good; we must give honour where it is due and I know those people there are working hard, but at the same time we must turn democratic elections to a prosperous economy and in this we have to work together. The Regional Chairman has spoken about education; we keep training so many people at the Guyana School of Agriculture and the University of Guyana, but where are they? Are they farmers? Are they producing more crops and livestock in the Rupununi? Are they becoming bureaucrats?
There still needs to be education, because it is by education that you will overcome some of the insects and termites which reduce your crop yield. It is by education that you could augment production and produce more corn or cassava than your father or grandfather produced. It is by education that you could learn new techniques and I would like us to look at those techniques. Okay, the Lethem competitiveness strategy.
When we speak about production, we are not speaking in a vacuum. The exhibitors here have come to sell their products, but these products have to compete with Brazilian products, Trinidadian products, Guatemalan products. If we are going to be competitive, your marketing your presentation, your bottling, your packaging have to meet international standards.
You’re not competing with Achiwuib, you are not competing with Sand Creek; you’re competing with Brazil; that’s who you’re competing with. So we need the Minister of Business, we need the Minister of Agriculture to help those farmers to get away from the vodka bottles and start producing international grade packaging (thank you for your applause) or else they will never be able to compete. Mr. King spoke and Mr. Mosier Barito spoke about the cycle of poverty. People are poor because they are poor; that is the start of the cycle of poverty. Poor people get poor children and what you have is a hereditary poverty.
You go into a village and you see a poor child; he or she is poor because his mother is poor, grandmother poor; we have to break the cycle of poverty. I’m not blaming people for being poor, but what I am saying is that central and regional administration and municipal administration must try to break that cycle of poverty so that people can start getting rich from agriculture and that is going to solve the problem.
When people are trained or educated, they’ll say “oh, I’m not going to migrate; I’m not going to go to Brazil to work on some farm or to work in a restaurant, I’m going to produce the best mango juice coming out of Moco-Moco. I’m going to produce the best mutton coming out of Awarewanau or Dadanawa”. That is what they are going to say. “I’m going to produce the best cashew nuts, the best peanuts”, but what are we to do? I would like the Minister of Business and I don’t like to do business like this in the open; I like to do business like last night; quiet, quiet.
I would like to ask him to consider having some fund because Mr. King mentioned something very complex; you may not understand how complex it is – that you have persons who don’t have title to the land, who probably can’t get a loan because they have no title, they have no collateral, but if these ladies, and most of them are ladies – looking around there I see some gender imbalance there, producers. Maybe the men give them the bottles, you know what I mean. The men gave them the vodka bottles to put the cassareep in; nothing against men.
You can’t put cassareep in full bottles, but at the same time, if we can get among our cassareep producers, maybe a hundred or two hundred bottles with good labels, so when you go in the supermarkets, when you go to Bonfim, when you go to Boa Vista, when you go to Georgetown, when you go to Linden, people can see well packaged, well packaged, attractive items which are competitive, which compare well with those of other countries.
They say “ha! I’m going to buy this one from Moco-Moco” but they will get very suspicious when they see something in an old Smirnoff vodka bottle and they are going to say, “eheh some might be left inside there; I don’t want to get high with pepper pot”. So think of that Minster of Business; let us get some soft funds, some open window; so just give these ladies a few hundred bottles with labels and ask the men ease off of the vodka bottles.
The Ministry of Business is concerned about small businesses. Small businesses grow into big businesses and I have often told the story of a former classmate of mine who lived at what used to be called Atkinson Field. He was an air traffic control officer and he started to do fruit juices for his friends who would come up from Georgetown to have a weekend, to have some form of entertainment and that product, starting in his kitchen with his wife’s blender, eventually became something call Tropical Orchard Products, otherwise known as Topco, started in one person’s kitchen; so small enterprises could become magnificent edifices.
And there is a window and I would ask particularly for the hard-working producers of the Rupununi. Let us see if we can give them that incentive by giving them well-labelled bottles so that customers and purchasers could be assured of the sanitary conditions and of course the attractiveness of those products. Anything you produce here in Rupununi could be canned, could be bottled, could be packaged and could be exported, could be marketed, but you have to compete, compete, compete; but you are not alone.
You have a BRIC next door and that BRIC is one of the richest countries in the world. It belongs to a community: B is for Brazil, R is for Russia, I is for India, C is for China and S is for South Africa. The BRICS are some of the rising economies in the world. So you all are very lucky that you have such a big market. You all are very unlucky because the Brazilians produce everything they want already; so you have to compete.
One of the big problems of RACE, the Regional Agriculture and Commercial Exhibition, and I would like the organisers of RACE to pay attention to this next year because every year when we come here for Lethem town day, we have to pay attention to energy. I don’t know if there are any exhibits here but let us deal with the manufacturers, the importers; let us see more energy saving equipment so that when these ladies go back to Quarrie, when they go back to Moco-Moco, when they go back to Haiwa, when they go back to Yupukari.
Lights are burning; students are studying at night because of solar power, people are working at night, packaging, because of solar power. Solar power is not a toy; it’s a tool for development. It’s not a little knick-knack we give you at Christmastime and say oh, come vote for me. We need to see huge fields. A country like Spain generates about forty percent of its power totally from the sun. People are not dealing with one, one panel anymore. People are dealing with solar farms and Rupununi has got the largest amount of sunlight hours in the entire country and it generates the most heat, too. I can tell you that; but the largest among the sunlight hours.
So let the businessmen come on board, get away from these panels, get away from this addiction to gasoline and start using solar power in every single village. Simple sealing machines could be used. Simple bottling machines could be used. Labelling machines could be used, could be generated by solar energy. So there is no need to feel, there is no need to believe, there is no need to think that power is something that is unavailable.
Even Moco-Moco; when I spoke to the Toshao of the day his big concern was to have that hydro rehabilitated and I like a Toshao like that because he was concerned about the development of the Moco-Moco community. He was concerned with getting power and I think he wanted to sell that power to Lethem; but I am sure that our neighbours from Brazil and businessmen could put that facility back on a commercial basis and sell power more cheaply than their competitors.
I can’t put the whole Government out of business but I’m interested in cheap power, not power at any cost. No other power company in this country has been picketed so much as the Lethem power company over the years, and we have to make power cheap in Lethem, and the cheapest power is sun power, sunlight power.
This morning I spoke also about the economic potential of eco-tourism. Ladies and gentlemen, this is not a fad. I have been reading in the paper today that Jamaica earned US$2 billion from tourism and the Rupununi almost, if it did nothing else, it could earn a lot from an efficient tourist industry.
Those of you who have children this morning at school look at the exercise books that they got. Those giants are true giants. These are not Google giants. We didn’t download those images from Google. Those are Guyanese animals and people are prepared to pay good money and one of the benefits of having a regional administration is not only to have a capital with an office but people must be able to come to see regional parks.
I have promised elsewhere that every region must have its own protected area because every region in this country is unique and the biggest region, the Rupununi, has some of the best and most beautiful animals that people are prepared to come and see. A certain Head of Government asked me to lend him a jaguar. Truly, he wanted me to lend him a jaguar. Not a car, you know. They would like to see some of these animals. I don’t like to see animals in captivity myself; so I have a problem with that and worse still I don’t like to see animals in pots; pepper pot and souse and thing. What I want to see is that there is a park. There is a park which resembles the natural environment where visitors can come and see anteaters, armadillos, watrush, otters, in their natural environment. That will help to turn your economy around.
My brothers and sisters, I am here at five o’clock on a good Friday afternoon because I’m interested in the development of this great region. My ministers are here; this is not an excursion, it’s not a political campaign; it is all about our commitment to developing this region. I have the whole day. The only thing I talked about is oil, is about not using it.
So I didn’t come here to talk about the petroleum bonanza. I am here to talk about the food bonanza and the first thing we have to get right is the investment. People have to put their money back into agriculture. Better farms, better grasses will produce better cattle; will produce better milk, better meat; and that will turn your cycle of poverty away from hereditary poverty to hereditary prosperity. There must be innovation. We cannot continue doing the same thing like our parents and grandparents did forty or fifty years ago. The world is moving ahead and we need to keep abreast with modern technology.
People want mutton but it must be packaged and labelled. It must be weighed and it must be certified safe. People want cassareep, people want peanut butter, people want cashew nuts; people want cassava bread. All of these products people on the coast and the supermarkets want but they must be packaged and presented in a certain way.
There must be innovation and that is why I’d like to ask the Minister of Business to work through his ministry, through the small and medium enterprise bureau, to help our farmers all over the country, not just Region Nine, to get access to the markets because some of these products will not get into the markets because they are not presented in a way that the customers would like.
Let me tell you this true story; I remember in the early days of the GMC, the GMC tried to export eggs to a certain Caribbean country and, after the first shipment, the head of the hotel industry in that country came to Georgetown. He said look, “we like your eggs but don’t send eggs with faeces again. Don’t send eggs with faeces.” They have to put eggs on the table in front of tourists coming from all around the world.
So people don’t buy eggs from you or buy cassareep from you because they like Guyana but because it’s a superior product and we have to be innovative and produce products which customers are attracted to and you need to produce these products on an industrial scale. Sometimes you go to a man or a woman or a community and you say “yes, I like this farine, it tastes good”. You know, we re-established the people’s militia and about three hundred people will be coming here for training. Could I have thirty thousand pounds of farine? They say “nah, nah, nah”.
They’re not geared for the market. They are geared for three packets, five packets but they’re not geared to produce on an industrial scale. So what happens – people end up bringing rice, from where? From Georgetown or from the coastland; so we don’t only need investment but we need investment on an industrial scale. I don’t know what’s going on in Santa Fe now; of course, the pictures I see deal with some aviation matters close to Santa Fe but I believe that on the ground they’re still producing some good rice which they export to Brazil.
And I don’t want to talk out of turn but we have to start producing commodities on the scale which could dominate the market and I think that from what I saw some time ago, the size and scale of that farm, I’m not making comments about any other activities, all I can tell you is the amount of rice I saw coming out of there – and I think that is the way we go, not only for rice but also for farine, also for peanuts and cashew nuts, also for cassareep and other products.
The speakers who stood at this podium this afternoon are all singing from the same song sheet. We’re talking about a firm and sound agro-industrial base for this region. We’re not talking about pie in the sky; we’re talking about facts and figures. We know that Rupununi has the potential but as Mosier Barito says, we have to break that poverty cycle. We have to prevent children coming out of poor families from themselves becoming poor by giving them the opportunities for education so they can learn new skills and techniques, giving them the opportunity to innovate and by encouraging our corporate community here in this capital town of Lethem to invest in small producers.
With these words I am very proud and happy to declare open the Regional Agriculture and Commercial Exhibition of the Rupununi Region.
Thank you and may God bless you all.