A study on how best to employ thousands of workers, who are being laid off as part of the restructuring of the state-owned Guyana Sugar Corporation (Guysuco), in other areas of agriculture is now underway, officials said Monday.
Chief Executive Officer of Guysuco, Errol Hanoman said the experts have cited the need for a good level of demand for produce to make such a project viable. “As the consultants have pointed out to us, this whole exercise has to be market-driven or market-led because you don’t want the guys to get into growing things where the local market is saturated and there is no outlet for their produce at a viable price,” he told Demerara Waves Online News.
With a preliminary draft report already in since the study began in September, he said the next step would be to train trainers to train Guysuco former employees. Hanoman said participants in the train the trainers would be drawn from the Guyana Livestock Development Authority and the New Guyana Marketing Corporation which have the required local expertise.
Asked whether Guyana did not have the expertise to conduct the study rather than going overseas, the Guysuco boss said it was important for foreign experts to be hired to conduct the European Union-funded study because a credible and scientific report is needed to approach international organisations to come on board.
Cautioning against believing that it is all about identifying and allocating lands to would-be farmers in an unstructured manner, Hanoman said already an unnamed international entity has signaled an interest in providing seed money in the project. “I am sure that this knowledge exists in a fashion among us here in Guyana, but to do a proper study that is going to be market-driven and to ensure that the processes are well-documented.. you have got to have people who are experienced in this and the other thing, as well, there could be international financial institutions who could be interested in providing seed-money for this type of activity so what we needed was a credible report that we could use to give to these financial institutions to sort of whet their appetite,” he said.
Questionnaires, he said, have been already distributed to workers for them to say whether they would be willing to lease lands from Guysuco and the type of agriculture or crops they would be interested in. “We are studying the results of the questionnaire, which have already been responded to, but I dare say there is further work to be done between now and the end of the year,” he said.
Junior Minister of Social Protection, Keith Scott first hinted that the study was underway in his contribution to the
2018 National Budget. He said the study was focusing on “what are some of the best options for alternative employment for some of those persons who will no longer be employed in the sugar industry…to accommodate some of those employees who will be better off with greater opportunities provided beyond just cutting cane.”
Reacting to a heckle from the opposition benches presumably only now that such a study is being conducted, Scott remarked that “now is the right time”.
Scott’s announcement comes at a time when Guysuco has been informing thousands of all categories of sugar workers at Skeldon, Rose Hall-Canje and East Demerara that they would be made redundant from December 31, 2017.
The Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) and the National Association of Agricultural, Commercial and Industrial Employees (NAACIE) have already reiterated that they want government to compensate the workers.
The unions recently decided to appeal a High Court ruling against their efforts to block the closure of several of Guysuco’s operations on the basis that there was inadequate consultation, and that a Commission of Inquiry had recommended that no estate should have been closed.