Farmers must run Plantain Chips Factory in Guyana

Farmers must run Plantain Chips Factory in Guyana

Photo : Plantain Chips

A prominent Guyanese Magistrate Charles Sohan recently wrote a missive that a Plantain Chips factory in Leguan built by the government and set for opening will be another white elephant like so many other government projects. A PNC-AFC government spokesman, Sherod Duncan disagrees saying it is up for tender for privatization. With regards to privatization, many people say it may end up for "the boys" (party financiers and those with government connection and can pay the right fee to get it). Those with government connection may benefit from the privatization deal rather than deserving farmers who could use it to make chips to help their community with job creation and boost income of the farmers. It should be handed over to farmers who will be in a position to help the large pool of unemployed in Leguan (site of the factory) and or surrounding islands that are settled mostly by Indians. Will farmers experience maximum benefit from privatization is the real issue arising out of the proposed sale of this project?

Mr Duncan rightly stated that the factory was the idea and creation of the previous PPP administration and that the coalition PNC-AFC should not be blamed if things go wrong with construction or privatization. But it was an all government project and things don't have to go wrong if PNC-AFC government is truly interested in helping farmers. The coalition did not have to go ahead with the project. They could have stopped it. No deal for the factory construction was signed by the PPP that would cost the new PNC-AFC government a huge sum of money. Yet the coalition went ahead with the construction. It was supposed to be a PPP project to benefit poor farmers and the unemployed and that could even see a joint private-government management involvement. Now Duncan says his government will sell the factory which is not even operational. Was that the intention of the previous government? Is the factory being set up now by the coalition to hand over to the boys in another scam that has characterized this coalition government ever since it was installed into power two years ago?

The plantain chips factory does not have to be a white elephant or even privatized to friends. It can be put to productive use and be very profitable. And it should not be handed over to a rich friend or financier of the government who will exploit poor farmers. It can be a successful venture if run by people who are directly involved in plantain farming and or are already making chips in Leguan at home. It should be handed over to a group of plantain farmers under a soft loan if necessary. It will create dozens of direct jobs in the making of chips. In addition, dozens more will be employed indirectly in sales and transportation, etc. Plantain chips will not only be consumed locally but exported as well creating even more jobs in the farming and trade sectors. And jobs are needed in Agri industries now more than ever because of government's plan to close down the sugar industry.

In New York, for example, plantain chips made in Costa Rica, Jamaica, Dominican Republic, etc are sold in corner shops and huge supermarkets as well as in schools. Trinidad imports chips from Jamaica and Costa Rica. Aruba sells chips from several countries. So there is market for chips. There is no reason why Guyanese chips can't be marketed in Trinidad and around the region. They must be made under sanitary conditions and properly packaged. Chips are not perishable and as such shipping from Guyana will not be a big issue even for consumption in distant North America. Exporting chips will create numerous jobs and bring in scarce foreign exchange.

Government should encourage and support farmers to go into production of not only plantain chips but sweet potato chips as well. These are very popular in NYC and throughout the Caribbean.

So building factories for production of consumer items don't have to be white elephants which are a concern of good governance advocates like Mr Sohan and myself. And yes government should not involve itself in managing or running such business projects given its track record of failures. Government should divest itself of such projects as Mr Duncan is wisely suggesting. But small farmers and those affected by closures of sugar estates should be helped with setting up small processing agro plants so they can enhance their standard of living and help the country in the process with job creation, trade, and obtaining scarce foreign currency.