December 31, 2018, marks two years since the Wales Sugar Estate was officially closed, and to date, many West Bank Demerara (WBD) sugar cane farmers have abandoned their plots due to the non-construction of an all-weather road to transport their produce to the Uitvlugt Estate as was promised. This factory is
located on the West Coast of Demerara (WCD), some 22 miles away from Wales and when Government confirmed the Wales’s closure, the Agriculture Ministry gave all assurances that the all-weather road would have been constructed. At one point, tenders were published in the local press but since then, little has been heard about the construction of the project.
In fact, the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU), which was the Union for workers at the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) on Wednesday said the issue of the non-existent road was highlighted.
GAWU reminded the public that as many as 774 farmers had aggregately cultivated 2674.4 hectares as outlined in the report of the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into the sugar industry.
“Farmers were a significant feature of Wales contributing half and sometimes more of sugar production. In announcing the closure, the Government said farmers’ canes would be processed at Uitvlugt and an appropriate road would be built. Today, that road remains a pipe dream and many farmers unable to transport their canes by public road have simply abandoned their plots,” the union body stressed.
In the interim, some of the farmers, including those from Canal Number One and La Retraite, WBD, crafted a makeshift route to transport their canes from Wales to Uitvlugt. This transport route was however said to be an expensive undertaking for farmers as Guyana Times reported in March.
At present, the current rainy weather patterns are causing the producers to encounter problems in accessing the backlands. Many of the farmers at Belle Vue, Good Intent, La Retraite and elsewhere have abandoned their plots while several others have ventured into planting alternative crops. For Belle Vue farmers, it was not until 2017 that they were granted the go-ahead by President David Granger owing their original 1956 lease outlining that they could have only cultivated sugarcane. However, they suffered losses when the dry weather patterns prevailed and access to irrigation channels proved difficult due to overgrown weeds. When Guyana Times spoke the several farmers earlier this year, they complained of having to leave sugar cultivation over the expense of transporting canes to Uitvlugt.
GAWU has highlighted that some 7000 workers were dismissed while thousands more are being affected from estate closures, especially the closure of Wales. The Union added that the current Administration seems not too keen credibility by way inconsistence in polices versus campaign promises prior to its assumption to office in May 2015.
“The actions by the [A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change] APNU/AFC Government are poles apart from what they said the coalition committed to do during the elections campaign. Moreover, the realities the workers and their families and their communities now confront are starkly different from what the Administration promised when it announced the closure of the estates. From all appearances, it seems that credibility is not something that is held in high esteem for the Administration taking into account its actions in other areas of national life as well,” the Union maintained.
GAWU feels that those affected by the closures are seeing a Christmas season that is “most depressing” as many are unable to afford many of the “niceties” of this season.
But even as GAWU, is now coming out criticising the Administration over the sugar industry, the sugar workers themselves earlier in the year had accused the Union of not having their best interest at heart. As a matter of fact, in January, hundreds of sugar workers and senior persons in the sugar industry who were dissatisfied with the way the GAWU had handled the sudden closure of sugar estates along with severance benefits and other issues relative to the sugar industry, had called for the Union’s President, Komal Chand, to resign.