Agriculture Minister Zulfikar Mustapha made a welcoming announcement that Guyana would soon join the membership of the International Coconut Community (ICC) as Government advances plans to increase cultivation of this crop countrywide. This revitalised initiative is expected to now receive support from Hope Coconut Estate and the National Agricultural Research and Extension Institute (NAREI). This, too, is welcoming news as the coconut industry has been neglected for years. Over the years, there has been talk of developing new agricultural industries.
The coconut industry is one which could be a money-spinner for the country. Already, even in its neglected state, coconut is the third major crop cultivated in Guyana, after rice and sugar cane. This industry can be one which could produce scores of by-products, for which there is demand for export as well as local use. The coconut and its by-products are now in growing demand world-wide.
Coconut oil, which once used to be wrongly labelled as high-cholesterol, is now regarded as among the best cooking oils, many consumers preferring it to olive and canola oils.
Most of the old coconut-growing families who had large estates have gone out of business. In the Pomeroon area, for instance, there are only a few producers left. As a matter of fact, one of the largest producers in Laluni, Haresh Tewari, only on Wednesday reminded that the industry can provide employment for the residents in the community. This particular farmer has plans to cultivate one million coconut trees.
The economic advantages of the industry should be widely disseminated, as the numerous profitable by-products which could easily be produced should be made known to the public, as well as the available markets should also be made known to producers.
It could be recalled that a coconut expert from India, Dr Shivarama Reddy, had come to Guyana some years ago to work with NARI and local farmers to examine ways in which the coconut industry could be revitalised, and to look at possible markets for the product. Also, a position paper by NARI had outlined three main areas of intervention to aid in the coconut industry: increasing the productivity and production potential of the sector; assessing the state of Guyana’s coconut oil industry and its future, and considering possible support mechanisms; and exploring other coconut-derived products in terms of their value-added and export potential. Nonetheless, over the years, the industry seemed to have contracted. Coconut oil, to a great extent, has been largely replaced by foreign imports. Dried coconuts are still exported, but in much lesser quantities than formerly. Today, a great part of coconut production is used to provide coconut water. One local producer exports the commodity to Trinidad for canning. The cans carry no reference to its Guyanese origin. An infrastructure of international packing standards already exists in Guyana. There is, for instance, the Beharry Group, which has put on the local and export markets a number of products with world class packing.
The coconut industry could become highly profitable within the next three or four years. This can be achieved if suitable lands are leased to prospective farmers, intensive agricultural extension services are provided, as well as soft loans and marketing exploration. The Agriculture Ministry and the Lands and Surveys Commission, with the help of experts, should be able to locate good coconut-growing lands and advertise for suitable takers. Unlike in the past, when there were talks of the massive production, giving optimistic hopes propagated to the public but were never materialised, it is time serious effort be expended in reviving the industry. This industry has very huge potential for expansion and development, especially as it relates to processing and value-added products. Guyana could tremendously increase its earnings from exports in this industry.