Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : November 10th 2016 Contents BG4 NEWS
BUSINESS GUARDIAN www.guardian.co.tt NOVEMBER 10 • 2016
"I know very few places in the world where
corporate tourism has not led to underdevel-
opment," said Professor Suresh Narine, looking
out his hotel room window at Niagara Falls.
"The profit structure places the bulk of
earnings in the hands of the wealthy owners
and the impact depends on the trickle-down
effect; it leaves workers in the industry at a
subsistence level. Just a few blocks from the
opulence of the grand hotels overlooking Niag-
ara Falls, you ll find very poor people and
It s the same, he says, in Barbados and
Jamaica and many of the small islands in the
Caribbean. The only way for tourism to work
is if locals own it and profit from it. Not
multinationals. A similar model has worked
with the Macushi tribe in Guyana, who suc-
cessfully run an ecotourism business the year-
round in the Guyanese interior.
But what if you didn t have to rely on
tourism, which is a low-skills transfer industry,
and a volatile one?
Narine, who is professor at Trent University
in Canada and director of the Guyanese Insti-
tute of Applied Science and Technology (IAST),
suggests an alternative: science. Using applied
science, he and the IAST have already done
much to change the regional possibilities for
regional economic growth and production.
Narine is an accomplished scientist, director
of the Trent University Centre for Biomaterials
Research, with several patents to his name
and a track-record of putting science in the
service of alternative economic development
the world over.
He is a rare individual who has been able
to bring science, commerce, and primary pur-
suits (like agriculture) into a functioning model
of commercial and social success. He is
engaged in the commercialisation of research
in science and technology in North America,
Europe and the Far East.
At the IAST in Guyana, Prof Narine has
developed a record of training locals, creating
innovative products for export, and improving
the standard of living of employees and con-
sumers. He is also the Anthony N Sabga
Caribbean Awards for Excellence (joint) lau-
reate in Science and Technology, 2015.
Three recent projects Guyana have seen
commercially produced food and personal
care products for local consumption and export
to the Caribbean and North America.
One food product is produced in a fully
vertically integrated operation that makes
sun-dried tomatoes and salad dressing called
Pakaraima Flavours, for their origin on the
slopes of the Pakaraima mountains in Guyana.
The other project is the Morning Glory brand
of rice-based cereals and food products. A
factory to commercially produce the rice-
based products is set to open this year.
Away from food agriculture is the Rupununi
Essences product line, the active ingredients
of which are the oil extract of the crabwood
tree and the essential oils from lemongrass.
The crabwood oil is known for its anti-viral,
emollient, insect repelling, anti-bacterial and
generally salubrious qualities.
It is being marketed locally, regionally and
internationally as a luxury personal care prod-
uct. It includes personal care items like sani-
tisers, cleansers, and beauty oils. These are
marketable products and knowledge that have
remained neglected for decades. They have
a strong environmental and sustainability
Due to the profits realised from their sale,
logging activity is expected to be reduced so
as to ensure a sustainable supply of the all-
important crabwood oil. This will assist in
curtailing deforestation and encourage envi-
ronmental stewardship by the communities.
"The indigenous peoples of Guyana have
had this knowledge for 7,000 years," said
"All it took was the application of appro-
priate technology and commercial interven-
tion." But there is more to it. For these col-
laborations to work, an elaborate scientific
and institutional infrastructure had to exist.
Narine revived the IAST in Guyana about ten
years ago, turning it into one of the premier
scientific institutions in the region.
Today, the investment is beginning to yield
returns. The IAST has begun to train
Guyanese in science and technology and basic
chemistry as well as production methods,
quality control, marketing, business plan-
creation, and accounting, to service the small
industries its graduates are setting up
throughout the country.
In addition to the projects outlined, the
institute has developed a local plant to produce
biodiesel, biomass pellets from waste from
the sugar, rice and logging industries to feed
furnaces, wood-plastic composite roofing
shingles, and a host of other commercial
opportunities utilising local materials.
The institute takes 15 trainees at a time,
and so far has graduated about 30, and they
pass on the knowledge in their communities.
The IAST is now partnering with the
Guyanese Ministry of Social Protection and
the Board of Industrial Training to accredit
these programmes so graduates can work in
the region. The institute also partners with
the Ministries of Social Cohesion and Indige-
nous People s Affairs in the application of
technology to indigenous and rural commu-
Prof Narine has great hopes for the future,
but is guardedly cautious. Much can go wrong
that has nothing to do with science: opaque
bureaucracies, personality politics and regional
inertia regarding funding of necessary pro-
"We have to respect our own regional sci-
entific talent and not assume that to get some-
thing done, we have to preferentially partner
with a foreign university or company," he said.
This urge to seek metropolitan guidance
even when expertise exists at home, said Nar-
ine, is a throwback to the colonial mindset,
when institutions were designed to foster
dependency on the foreign "parents". In the
aftermath of colonialism, there did exist a
cadre of skilled locals, but because of politics
and social agendas, this class was dismantled
and many emigrated. This loss of talent (the
"brain drain") along with the death of the
sugar industry in the region, left the societies
reeling. In many cases, local economies have
not yet recovered.
When science and development is discussed,
it is usually thought to mean the importation
of technology. But there must be people who
can innovate using foreign technology and
local resources and there must be enabling
environments. Another ANSA Caribbean
Awards laureate Prof Patrick Hosein of T&T,
has the same complaint and has set up the
first science "think tank", TTLAB, in Trinidad.
This point of the lack of local scientific ini-
tiative, said Narine, is responsible for the
underdevelopment of the interior of Guyana.
Its land and economic potential remained,
and still remain, largely untapped because of
the lack of transportation infrastructure---
roads, bridges, and vehicles---to get the produce
to markets, and expertise and labour from
But geography need not be a constraint.
"Holland has one of the smallest land-
masses in Europe," said Narine, "yet it s one
of the largest producers of agricultural prod-
ucts in Europe. This is because the Dutch
use their resources wisely. Appropriate tech-
nology and choice of products; those are the
By contrast, in Guyana, blessed with agri-
cultural land and resources, "the rice breakfast
cereal factory in Guyana took two years to
realise because of bureaucratic delays. It
should have taken six months," said Narine.
"It took me complaining and lobbying for
most of that time to get the necessary
approvals. What is also interesting is that
there is no one or group of individuals to
blame; the systems do not exist in most of
the countries in the region to streamline such
Another example of how a seemingly opti-
mal situation can work in reverse is the case
of oil-rich T&T. Today, after two oil and gas
booms in two decades, its economy is tee-
tering because of the changes of the oil mar-
ket and its failure to invest in sustainable
institutions and technology.
Change is possible, but it won t be easy.
Prof Narine calls his model "bootstrapping
regional labour." Talk and amorphous ini-
tiatives and meetings will accomplish little
"For example, the Jagdeo Initiative and
other well-intentioned regional strategies
for agriculture, assume once you have these
agreements at a Heads of Government level,
development will magically follow. That s
not true. It takes focus, strategy and careful
implementation. I don t think there s even
a regional map or database showing soil-
types, water and land availability for culti-
"For example, how many people know
that the slopes of the Pakaraima mountains
(in Paramakatoi, for example), because of
the altitude can cultivate crops the rest of
the region can t, like Irish potatoes? Are we
going to continue to feed the army of foreign
consultants that follow funding allocation
to such initiatives, or are we going to invest
in training our own labour force?"
The author is the communications man-
ager of the Anthony N Sabga Caribbean
Awards for Excellence
Guyana's tourism alternative
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