As Jamaica agro-processing sector makes extra-regional waves, Guyana’s appears stuck in uncertainty

Already having established a noteworthy reputation on the extra-regional market for success in penetrating sizeable sections of the international market for agro-processed products, Jamaica’s agro-processing sector is pushing the country’s farmers harder to increase production at the level of the farm in order to further expand the sector’s international market. Backed by the Jamaica Products Corporation (JAMPRO), a state agency that has won widespread acclaim for its successful promotion of Jamaican products on the international market, diligent, Jamaican agro-processors are now reportedly focusing attention on innovating Jamaican traditional snacks “with a healthy twist” as they seek to capitalize on the global consumer preference for consuming foods that have authentic health-related   ‘tags’ attached to them.

Jamaica’s success in this regard is reflected in the fact that last year the country’s recently upgraded agro-processing incubator facilitated the production of J$22 million worth of agro-processed products. Pursuits in the sector that focuses as much on product enhancement as it does on increasing volumes have reportedly resulted in “a healthier focus on food production.” A recent Jamaica Gleaner report quotes Jamaica Business Development Corporation (JBDC) Technical Services Corporation Manager Colin Porter as saying, “Jamaica is seeing generally a healthier focus on food production.” Contextually, the report says that flavour profiles in the country’s agro processing sector have widened. “For example, agro-processors who produce coconut cakes and roasted peanuts are adding flavours to them. We are seeing spicy flavoured peanuts, jerk-flavoured peanuts,” Porter says.

By comparison, Guyana, over the years have decidedly lagged behind, its efforts to continually increase its exports falling short largely through chronic weaknesses in its external marketing infrastructure. Setting aside the fact that there is little, if any, evidence that the agro processing sector here benefits from an adequate level of technical support comparable to that received by Jamaican counterparts, the sector, for all its state-driven ‘promotion’ is patently deficient in both technical support associated with product enhancement as well as external marketing support capable of successfully targeting robust regional and extra regional markets for local agro produce. The Stabroek Business has previously reported on the gap between promises and actualization associated with securing markets for local agro produce overseas. The fault here, it is widely believed, lies in what appears to be the ability of an ill-equipped Guyana Marketing Corporation (GMC) to get the marketing job done.

While evidence of a state-driven focus on raising the country’s agro processing profile has been reflected in a move to establish agro processing facilities across the country, a Ministry of Agriculture that never tires of making high-sounding pronouncements about the sector, is yet to make a definitive disclosure about production at the various factories. In Jamaica, the JBDC has been collaborating with local manufacturers to develop innovative products that strive for high quality, a move that reportedly comes against the backdrop of a push by the country’s Ministry of Industry, Investment and Commerce to increase exports of locally manufactured products.

Back in January, Senior Minister in the Office of the President with responsibility for Finance and Public Service, Dr Ashni Singh, had said in his 2024 budget presentation that Guyana is promoting the growth of the agro-processing industry, including value-chain development and market expansion for its produce. Up to this time, however, the country’s participation in external events designed to promote the country’s agro produce has been limited to participation by a limited number of Guyanese agro-processors in Agro Fest in Barbados. While the event afforded a limited opportunity for the regional promotion of local agro produce, it would not have had the opportunity to secure the attention of the potentially more lucrative international market. Up to this time, there has been no report from the Guyana Office for Investment (GOINVEST), the state agency responsible for chaperoning local participants in the Barbados Agro Fest of any regional or extra-regional breakthroughs for local products that benefitted from the external market exposure facilitated by the Agro Fest event. 

Earlier this year, the Ministry of Agriculture had announced that it had launched 130 new agro-processing products through the New Guyana Marketing Corporation (GMC), though it is yet to respond to this newspaper’s request for a list of those products. Additionally, little if anything has been said by the Ministry of Agriculture regarding whether or not these facilities are as yet in production mode. 

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