by Samuel Sukhnandan
Newly-appointed Agriculture Minister Zulficar Mustapha said a “technical assessment” would first have to be done before the sugar estates are closed
“The reopening of the estates will depend on when we finish the studies and see what exists in the government because right now you have a pandemic in the country and the world reality is different but we are committed to these promises that we have in our manifesto,” he said.
The Guyana Manufacturing and Services Association (GMSA) recently called on the new government to revive the closed estates especially since molasses is a key and critical ingredient in several industries. One of Guyana’s main rum producers, Demerara Distillers Limited, has resorted to importing molasses.
The minister told News Talk Radio 103.1FM/Demerara Waves Online on Wednesday following his appointment that he is also prepared to work on improving the local agriculture sector and ensure that the ailing sugar industry is returned to some level of normalcy.
“We are committed to our manifesto promises and that include sugar workers, cash crop farmers, rice producers, among others. But as I said the manifesto promises are there and we will try to fulfil it as much as possible,” he remarked.
The People’s Progressive Party (PPP) had promised its supporters during the March 2020 elections campaign that they would reopen shuttered estates, providing jobs for the thousands who were put on the breadline by the coalition government led by former President David Granger closed four sugar estates.
In reiterating the importance of the agriculture sector to the Guyanese economy, Mr. Mustapha said his first task as minister would be to get a full briefing from the technical staff at his ministry to gauge areas of priority that would require immediate attention.
He said,”I have to do an assessment first of all before I put out an action plan. So, after that we can come up with a plan of action and we can put forward that.”
Since 2015, the coalition government had insisted that seven estates were proving a major problem for the national treasury. Targets have dropped from over 200,000 tonnes to about 100,000 tonnes now annually and even this target is yet to be achieved.
The industry most recently recorded an overall production shortfall of 9,461 tonnes of sugar.
The APNU+AFC administration has closed Wales, Enmore-East Demerara, Rose Hall-Canje and Skeldon Estates and laid off of more than 5,200 workers.