President Donald Ramotar, declaring on Sunday that Guyana’s sugar industry was in near “crisis”, said he was open to cooperatives producing cane- an idea that a top trade union leader said would be no quick fix.
Addressing a rally at Enmore in honour of the five sugar workers, who were killed by colonial police during labour unrest, the Guyanese leader said he was open to ideas from anyone to rescue the industry whose production has been declining steadily.
“If the workers and the union feel that they know and they understand the industry very, very good and they can produce better than the management, I am ready to even consider giving them the lands in coops and let them produce because sugar is produced in the fields,” he told a gathering of more than 150 persons.
At least six sugar estate trucks and other vehicles transported the bulk of the attendees to the event at Enmore, considered a traditional bedrock of supporters of the governing Peoples Progressive Party Civic (PPPC).
While President of the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU), Komal Chand welcomed the idea of cooperatives, he did not regard it as an immediate solution to the woes of the state-owned Guyana Sugar Corporation (Guysuco).
“We are supportive of it but it cannot happen just over night. We have to look at the workers’ culture, developing the confidence of the workers in this philosophy and to make it work so that it could gain momentum,” Chand told reporters.
He recommended that government provide machine, fertilizers and other forms of support to a pioneer sugar cooperative scheme. At Wales Estate, West Bank Demerara, private farmers supply 50 percent of the estate to the factory.
Chand reiterated the need to rejuvenate the soil by flooding the cane fields, a method that they have stopped 25 years ago, have more agriculturally-minded persons on Guysuco’s board and research new high yielding varieties.
The President promised to accept all workable ideas to revive the sugar industry from its near “crisis” state. “The condition in the industry now could probably be described now almost as a crisis at this point in time,” he said. Key ingredients in a revival plan, he said, were maturity and working together.
The Guyanese leader’s diagnosis of Guysuco led him to conclude that the industry’s plight was a result of Europe’s 36 percent cut in the lucrative price it had paid for the sweetener, and the multi-million dollar Skeldon Sugar Factory. “The investment in Skeldon will prove to be wise and good investment but up to now it has still not lived up to its expectation,” he said.
The former member of Guysuco’s Board of Directors until his accession to the presidency in 2011 noted that the attitude has not changed from colonial times because workers do not see themselves as the owners of the industry and management “still operates in a high handed way.” “The ownership of the industry does not reflect the attitude that exists at this point in time,” he said.
At the same time he appealed to all to stop making excuses, complaining and engaging in a blame game but instead collectively turn the industry around.
Guysuco produced 47,000 tons during the first crop for this year, 24,000 short of its target. The company hopes produce 240,000 tons this year, a target experts say is a tall order.
Statistics also show, for example, that Guysuco had aimed to first produce 290,000 tons of the sweetener in 2009 and then revised it 248,668 but ended up producing 233,736 tons. In 2010, the company had set itself a target of 264,000 but rallied to 220,862. The following year, Guysuco again revised its target twice from 300,000 to 282,000 tons before slumping 235,000 tons. This year, the producer hopes to scrape in 236,000 out of a target of 265,000.
Guysuco has consistently blamed rainy weather and unrest for the trail of poor production while the union has added bad management including poor crop husbandry to the list of reasons.