The politics of rice flour

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In the 1980s when Guyana was reeling from the impact of the increase in oil price by the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), the economy took a battering. OPEC pricing impacted other economies though to differing degrees and respective countries’ ability to respond. Given Guyana’s heavy reliance on oil and the importance of this commodity to our economy it put a strain on foreign reserves and affected the country’s ability to import other products, including food staples such as wheat flour, Irish potatoes, yellow split peas, evaporated and powder milk, etc.

The austerity period was difficult for many, given import restriction and shortages. The period also saw an exodus of many Guyanese and created  opportunities for political misrepresentation and grandstanding. Some Guyanese seized opportunities to create value added from local products such as making preserved fruits from five-finger (carambola), sourie and gooseberries; smoked and salted fish from local fishes, etc.

The Forbes Burnham government, in a time of economic downturn,  also sought to encourage reassessment of dependency away from foreign products to local products and produced food items such as rice flour and Cerex (baby and infant food), etc. Guyana missed opportunities, through Research and Development, to improve these products and compete in the international market. Had more Guyanese at least looked beyond hatred for the person (Burnham) and explored the opportunities that availed, Guyana could have been a serious manufacturing hub.

Nutritionists, after studies, state rice flour is a great substitute for wheat flour. It contains no gluten which irritates the digestive system and of which some are intolerant to. Rice flour is therefore better for those allergic to gluten. It is also used to make formula for infants and babies as seen with food manufacturing giants such as Gerber.

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There are so many other by-products of rice flour such as in toiletries (shampoo, conditioner, bath soap) and makeup. In cooking, rice flour is also used to make noodles.  India, China, among other rice producing countries are using rice flour in so many different ways and exporting commodities made from the product. Guyana could have been a viable contender in the market, not only in local consumption but also for exportation, but politics has kept us backward and rice in Guyana has no by-product of consequence beyond the raw grain.

Online businesswire news-a media outlet of the Berkshire and Hathaway Company- in a February 2, 2021 report stated, “Global Rice Flour Market to Reach $921 Million by 2027.” Said article noted, “Amid the COVID-19 crisis, the global market for Rice Flour estimated at US$752.9 Million in the year 2020, is projected to reach a revised size of US$921 Million by 2027, growing at a CAGR of 2.9% over the period 2020-2027.”

Every time Guyanese think and talk about rice flour, it is time to move past conversations of rice flour being a ‘Burnham deprivation’ and start reflecting on the shortsightedness, missed economic and nutritional opportunities for Guyana and Guyanese, at home and abroad.



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