May 28, 2017

Hard work and a superior product

Launched in 2005, the Aranaputa peanut butter factory is a locally-run cooperative, supplying its product to families, schools and lodges across the Rupununi, while providing employment for workers from the surrounding villages.
Around 700 acres of Rupununi farmlands are dedicated to peanut cultivation, much of which is channelled to the Aranaputa cooperative. The peanut butter cooperative serves an important role in local economic development by giving farmers a local outlet for their produce, while providing affordable, hygienic, nutritional, locally-produced food to community residents.

Displaying a jar of locally-made peanut butter

Displaying a jar of locally-made peanut butter

It was only a few years ago when peanuts were roasted on an open pan, then hand-cranked through a press before being manually packed and sealed for sales and distribution. Hard work and a good product have led to much success for the cooperative, affording them the ability to purchase a few pieces of automated equipment and, more recently, to move into a better-ventilated facility.
The team started with the aim of improving the social and economic welfare of their village. Peanuts are one of the main crops grown in the savannah region to earn money. Residents of the area produced and sold salted peanuts, but this was not enough.
In 2002, a local team of peanut farmers joined with the Universities of Georgia and Florida to start the Peanut CRSP (Collaborative Research Support Programme) – Guyana project. The 2004 peanut crop reached an all-time high, but this coincided with an increase in imports of peanuts from China, a glut in the Georgetown market – and lower prices to peanut farmers.
In production
A search for new markets led to negotiations with the Ministry of Education for their purchase of school snacks made from locally grown peanuts, cassava and fruits. The ministry agreed to a six-month pilot project in seven villages in Region Nine. In January 2005, the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives committed funds for the purchase of tools and equipment for the pilot, and by February, groups of women were active in the seven villages. By June that year, they were in operation, producing peanut butter, cassava bread and fruit juice snacks for 1,400 students. Aranaputa was one of the villages.
In explaining the benefits of the factory to the community, Virgil Harding, a representative from the group, in an interview with Guyana Times Sunday Magazine explained: “The factory provides employment for residents to work at the factory in producing the peanut butter. It purchases cassava meal from the villagers for the making of the cassava bread biscuits and fruits to make drink to serve with the daily snacks distributed at the schools in the area. Overall, the factory benefits the entire community.”
Although facing many challenges, this particular peanut butter factory in Guyana has been enjoying various developments since its opening. Harding revealed that the factory started off in a small thatch-roof cottage but later moved to a more unique, required structure.
He added that at the old factory the workers did all the work manually but now most of the machinery is electrical, which helps significantly in producing more in a smaller time frame. In addition, there has been an increase in the amount of raw materials purchased, resulting in an increase in production output. Also present is the experience in capacity building for workers in areas of leadership skills, accounting skills, proper food handling, public speaking, hygiene, among many others.
Harding stated that the group started off with mainly women, but in the last three years has opened its doors to men. To date, there are 8 women and 2 men.
“The group usually makes about 65 pounds of peanut butter per day. All the schools of the North Rupununi purchase peanut butter from the factory for the serving of their school snacks. The peanut butter is made from locally grown peanuts in the said village of Aranaputa. The only other ingredients are just a little bit of sugar and a tip of salt. We do not do any peanut oil extraction. A few 25 pounds were sent to Beacon Foundation in Georgetown, but we are not ready to supply outside markets just yet, due to the amount of raw materials our limited finances can purchase at the peanut season,” Harding disclosed.
He pointed out that in order to improve its standards, the factory needs a license from the Food and Drug Department for national and international market recognition, more storage area for raw materials, loans to purchase raw materials, computer literacy classes for workers so that they can store important information, do research and communicate with the wider world.
“The factory is focused on getting more persons to join as members. We will continue to work on areas of capacity building in order to improve the workers’ ability to produce and are also adamant on getting our license from the Food and Drug Department. We’re working hard on getting our product to other markets outside Rupununi. Of course we have plans of expanding but we need financial support. With this we can employ more persons and increase our production,” Harding said, outlining the factory’s plans for its future.
For more information on the peanut butter factory, email Virgil Harding at virgilharding@yahoo.com (Guyana Times Sunday Magazine)