A viable sugarcane industry

The PPPC had committed to reopening the estates that were unilaterally shuttered by the APNU/AFC Government, and upon assuming office on August 2nd, immediately “put their money where their mouth is”. Steps have already been initiated to reopen Rose Hall and Skeldon estates in Berbice, and Enmore/LBI on the East Coast of Demerara. Wales is slated to be diversified outside of sugar.
But if the plan to again make the sugar industry profitable is to be successful, there first would have to be a plan, a holistic one that looks in a hardnosed fashion at where the industry is; where the Board of Directors (BoD) wants it to be; and, most importantly, exactly what the BoD expects the management team to do to achieve that objective.
Towards that end, we offer some suggestions. First of all, we believe that the sugar plantations can be made viable within a regime that more clearly articulates the de facto change in strategy from a sugar industry to a sugarcane industry. The change is more than semantic. At the most mundane level, it stresses the fact that all the end products – sugar (bulk and packaged, raw and refined), electricity, alcohol, ethanol, paper etc. – depend on sugarcane being supplied, and therefore its production must be given the central role in any future strategy.
One area that has to be looked at is the recruitment practices for field management staff: Field Manager, Senior Field Manager, Asst. Field Mngr. (harvesting), Asst. Field Mngr. (crop husbandry), Asst. Field Mngr. (mechanical tillage), Agri. Superintendent (Agronomist), Asst. Field Mngr. (cultivation), Field Workshop Superintendent, Field Superintendent, Supervisors (one for each gang), Field Foremen, Charge-Hands.
Of recent, GuySuCo has had great difficulty in recruiting and retaining managers from Field Superintendent level upwards. This will remain a problem if upper management continues to insist on “book qualifications” being the main criteria for recruitment. Individuals with book qualifications retain the ingrained West Indian aversion to be connected to manual labour, and basically see themselves “catching their hand” until they locate greener (white collar) pastures. They avoid the fields like the plague.
The industry’s focus ought to shift towards promoting upwards from the supervisors’ category individuals who started as ordinary workers, because they would more likely remain on the job for the status conferred by the positions. They ought to be trained in the use of the now available hand-held computerised devices that allow the complicated flow of field operations’ information to be monitored and evaluated daily.
In addition to the abovementioned product mix from sugar cane, we suggest that the production of biogas be made standard at all sugar factories. Molasses and bagasse are not the only by-products in the production of sugar from sugarcane; the wash-and-press mud is extremely rich in methane or bio-gas, which can be extracted and bottled for commercial sale, or for providing fuel to the fleet of vehicles used in the sugarcane cultivation. The vehicles would have to be slightly modified.
The generation of electricity from bagasse ought not to be seen as simply a subsidiary operation in the production of sugar, but as an economic enterprise on its own merits. Mauritius embarked on this road in the mid-eighties, and most of its factories now have co-generation capabilities that in 2016 satisfied 22% of the national demand by exporting to the national grid 663GWh. For the Berbice plantations, the co-generation potential would be augmented if the four factories consolidated their co-generation plants. If power generation is evaluated on its own capabilities, some of the Type III lands in Demerara, that give such poor yields for sugarcane, could be converted into cultivation of fuel cane, which is not only hardier, but contains more fibre and thus generates more energy in power generation. Unlike the sugarcane, the fuel cane can also be harvested in sub-optimum weather, since sunlight to maximise sucrose content is not a factor: the number of available days in the wetter Demerara plantations could then be increased, thus lowering unit costs.

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