Former sugar workers, communities to get transitional support – Agri Minister

…says Govt remains committed to reviving sugar belt

Agriculture Minister Zulfikar Mustapha has assured sugar workers that the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) Government remains committed to returning the sugar sector to viability and reviving the local economies in the sugar belt, which have languished following the closure of the estates by the APNU/AFC Government.

Sugar workers and their families protesting the closure of the Enmore estate by the former APNU/AFC Government back in 2017

Mustapha made this statement during an interview with this publication on Monday. According to him, reviving the sugar industry and with it, the communities, was a PPP manifesto promise that his Ministry intends to keep.

Transitional support
The Minister made it clear that the Government will provide transitional support to these communities, which were left with little to no support when the estates closed. According to Mustapha, the Private Sector will also have a role to play in this and they will establish transparent partnerships to help revamp the sector.
“As was said in our manifesto, we will revive the sugar industry and will continue efforts to ensure the sustainability of the sugar industry by implementing a lot of measures. We will reopen the estates, revive the local economy in the sugar communities. We have to pursue product diversification. And provide retraining and employment opportunities for workers,” Mustapha said.

Agriculture Minister Zulfikar Mustapha

He added that the plan is to work closely with the Private Sector, “ so we have to establish transparent Private Sector partnership in the sugar sector, so we can get that kind of partnership. As well as support for private cane farmers. Over the years private cane farmers have been playing a very, very important role. We have to provide transitional support to areas where estates were closed.”

Among the concerns the Minister expressed regarding the sugar estates is the way in which their maintenance was neglected by the former A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) Government. In fact, Mustapha noted that there was a lack of policy guidance and direction from the former Ministry.
“For example, in the summarised report that GuySuCo gave me, they asked NICIL for a particular sum of money to do capital work, to do maintenance work. And they were given half of that. If you look at the state of the industry, maintenance is not good. They’ve not been doing the type of maintenance they should do.”
“The crop husbandry (was neglected). Sugar cane demands a lot of work. You have to fertilise, you have to (tend to) the root and stuff like that. Those works were not done how it ought to have been done. So the cane growth will be small, the cane sucrose will not be there and the (projected) sugar will not be there.”
Indeed, GuySuCo has consistently missed production targets while bleeding money. As recent as June, it was announced that GuySuCo missed its first crop target for 2020 by almost 9500 tonnes.
None of the three sugar estates left standing after the APNU/AFC closures reached their targets. Albion estate had the greatest shortfall. It had set itself a target of 23,089 tonnes of sugar, but could only manage 16,802 tonnes – falling short by 6287.
Blairmont had set itself a target of 13,976 tonnes of sugar, but only produced 11,867; a variance of 2109. Meanwhile, Uitvlugt failed to reach its target of 9410 tonnes of sugar, producing instead 8344 and falling short by over 1000 tonnes of sugar.
Back in May of this year, Chairman of GuySuCo’s Board, John Dow was forced to write to the former APNU/AFC Government to plead for executive assistance. Dow told then President David Granger that “….GuySuCo needs funds now to be able to survive after the second week June 2020.”
After former Finance Minister Winston Jordan told GuySuCo that the Administration could not afford to intervene given the prevailing financial troubles, the former Government eventually buckled down and through the National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL) transferred $250 million.
The former APNU/AFC Government closed the Rose Hall, Skeldon, Wales and Enmore sugar estates. However, little to no provisions were made for sugar workers, who were thrown on the breadline. In addition, communities in the sugar belt have suffered the economic and social effects of the closures of the estates.