Organic farming reaps harvest for an Indigenous community

In the hinterland region of Guyana there is an indigenous village perched high on a plateau nearly 3000 meters above sea level.

With a population of approximately 3,500, Paramakatoi is a village of farmers.

Every family in this community cultivates a small farm to help meet their basic needs. They have been planting for generations, including 72-year-old Adwin Nagalla, who has been farming for over half a century.

There is very little trade in produce within these communities. They face both a geographic and financial barrier due to the remote location of the village and the high cost of shipping their produce to the capital, Georgetown, for sale on an individual level.

Most residents cannot afford the basic necessities beyond the food they grow, so a culture of dependency on government and non-governmental aid programs has developed.

These farmers have not ventured into large-scale farming, until now.

President of Guyana, David Granger, is welcomed by children in Paramakatoi.

Empowering a Community

The Canadian High Commission to Guyana recently joined President of Guyana, David Granger, in commissioning the first food processing facility in Paramakatoi.

Farmers in Paramakatoi and the nearby villages of Mountain Foot and Bamboo Creek have formed themselves into an agricultural co-operative in anticipation of the processing facility.

“I believe this project will surprise the world, will demonstrate how much this community can produce and the quality of our products.”

– 72-year-old Adwin Nagalla, Paramakatoi farmer

Their first project is to plant organic tomatoes. The tomatoes will then be dried at the new solar drying and processing facility.

The project is largely funded by the Government of Guyana, primarily through the Ministry of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs. The Canada Fund for Local Initiatives (CFLI) is providing support to this initiative in the form of a solar dryer, water trestle and security hut.

Twelve thousand tomato seedlings, provided by National Agricultural Research and Extension Institute (NAREI), have already been planted.

“It is not good enough to give an engine to a community or tools or foodstuff or clothing. Gifts are always appreciated, but they are not enough to sustain one’s life on this earth; we need more. Our Indigenous peoples are excellent farmers and their dream of selling; of farming to bring an adequate income to support their families must not only remain a dream.”

– Valerie Garrido-Lowe, Guyanese Ministry of Indigenous People’s Affairs

A Green Future

Farming in Paramakatoi is completely organic - no fertilizer or pesticides are used, and the locations of the farms are shifted regularly, resulting in natural reforestation. The climate and rich soil, coupled with the rotation of farm locations results in remarkable yields of agricultural produce.

This project represents a renaissance of development and rejuvenation in several indigenous communities by harnessing science, technology and business models which are green, sustainable and empowering.

The entire complex is powered by a solar panel system supplied by the Canada-based Greenheart Tree Energy. Additionally, twelve thousand tomato seedlings, provided by National Agricultural Research and Extension Institute (NAREI), have already been planted.

The potential for expanding production into other organic dried preserved fruits, vegetables, spices, and essential oils is high.

Under the Tomato Project, the farmers will supply thousands of pounds for processing every month. The dried tomatoes will be transported to Georgetown where they will be packaged as sun-dried tomatoes or made into sun-dried tomato salad dressing at the Institute of Applied Science and Technology (IAST).

The farmers are paid upfront for the delivery of their tomatoes for processing. After production costs for the salad dressings and sun dried tomatoes are deducted, all remaining profit goes directly to the farming co-operative.

The entire complex (above) is powered by a solar panel system supplied by the Canada-based Greenheart Tree Energy.

The facility will also be used for the training of the youth within the Hinterland Employment and Youth Service (HEYS), a youth program being implemented by the Ministry of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs, to be young entrepreneurs and future leaders of the community. On completion of training, youths from HEYS will be employed to run the facility.

“We try as the Canadian Government to help sustainable development, which means projects which not only generate employment but also create a sense of progress in communities. Even more importantly, Canada is celebrating 150 years of the Confederation and we are going through a great transformation - a process which we call reconciliation, we recognise the value of our own First Nations as contributors to the construction of our country and the project being done with the community of first nations of Guyana for us was extremely important.”

– Pierre Giroux, Canada’s High Commissioner to the Cooperative Republic of Guyana

Residents of Paramakatoi are eager to begin farming and look forward to their green venture.