Just hours after A Partnership for National Unity’s (APNU) sugar expert, Anthony Vieria recommended that Guyana exits the sugar industry and turn to aquaculture and ethanol production, the governing Peoples Progressive Party (PPP) Tuesday night launched a blistering attack on the major opposition party.
“The call by the APNU must be viewed as wanton disregard for the wellbeing and livelihoods of thousands of sugar workers and their families across the sugar belt. The APNU’s call for the shutting down of the sugar industry must be deemed reckless and total disrespect for sugar workers, their dependants and the thousands of others who benefit directly and indirectly,” the PPP said in a statement.
Vieria said that due to declining production because of a variety of reasons, Guysuco’s lands should be converted to aquaculture farms. He also suggested that in the medium term, Guyana should produce sugar to take advantage of the still reasonable price of US$700 per ton that Europe pays for the sweetener. He further recommended that Guyana imports sugar from Mexico for domestic consumption. Vieria has said that Guyana should only get into ethanol production if the price would be on par with that of gasoline. The former GuySuco senior employee said that aquaculture could earn Guyana as much as US$700 million gross annually and absorb many sugar industry workers.
While the President of the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU), Komal Chand has suggested that studies be done to determine the relevance of sugar, he has expressed cautious optimism that the industry would bounce back from hard times associated with consistently declining production, high debts and escalating wages.
But the PPP has called APNU’s ideas “callous and insensitive” reflective of its scant regard for the sugar industry and thousands who depend on it for their livelihood.
The PPP recalled that the then Peoples National Congress (PNC) administration was responsible for the closure of two estates. The PPP-Civic led administration less than five years ago closed sugar cane cultivation at Diamond, East Bank Demerara.
Also recounted was the opposition’s decision to block a GUY$4 billion infusion int Guysuco, something the governing party said was “position is further demonstrative of the callousness of APNU towards the dedicated and industrious sugar workers.”
“The PPP views this call by the PNC/APNU as part and parcel of its long held desire to deprive sugar workers of their jobs, thereby demoralising and reducing their capacity to provide for their families and their children’s future,” added the party.
The governing party promised to ensure that that the sugar industry remains relevant and jobs are saved.
While the party touched on the importance of the U$200-million odd sugar Skeldon Sugar Factory, it did not go into details about the ongoing problems that it is facing. “While there are some teething challenges with the factory, it remains pivotal to the future of the industry and its workers.”
Meanwhile, Agriculture Minister Dr. Leslie Ramsammy said that despite the many challenges the sugar industry which employs close to 20,000 people, is currently facing, it remains viable.
He was quoted by the Government Information Agency (GINA) as expressing optimism that Guyana would meet its target of 216,000 tonnes.
Giving an update on GuySuCo’s operations, Minister Ramsammy said currently all seven factories are functioning and as of Monday, March 10, production level stood at 18,000 tonnes.
“Some of the factories with which we have had issues, are functioning relatively well at this time. Enmore which was one of the earlier estates that started production is about 4,600 tonnes and Skeldon which was one of the last of the seven factories to begin working is at around 1,600 tonnes.”
The Minister said that most of the estates are meeting their target thanks to the good weather pattern.
Meanwhile speaking on the issue of Government’s support to the sugar industry, Minister Ramsammy said the Administration will remain committed toward supporting the industry.
He said the decision by Government to support the industry is justifiable given the fact that the industry has for decades lent support to other sectors when they were failing.
“We are not investing more that we are reaping, the industry has served Guyana well for centuries, and like every other industry it has its difficulties and it requires support from the government so we will give support,” he said.
“Those who claim that we are subsiding the industry too much, they are wrong, sugar has contributed to the welfare of the nation, large numbers of people are benefiting and some of the needs of society are being addressed as a result of the operation of the sugar industry.”
The Minister pointed out that in many communities, drainage and irrigation capacity has been boosted because of GuySuCo’s pump.
“I think by 2020, sugar will reach the target established of 400,000 tonnes. Those who think sugar is dead are dead wrong,” he stated.