High cane-to-sugar ratio at Uitvlugt blamed on mechanical issues, delays
The Guyana Sugar Corporation’s (GuySuCo’s) Uitvlugt Estate is utilising more cane than normal to produce a single tonne of sugar, and this is cause for concern for the new Chief Executive Officer (CEO), who is on a mission to make the industry a profitable one.
GuySuCo’s newly appointed CEO, Sasenarine Singh, on Thursday toured the Uitvlugt Sugar Factory on the West Coast of Demerara. The intention was for Singh to get first-hand knowledge of the operations at the factory and identify issues in an effort to come up with solutions to make the sugar industry a viable one once again.
Singh expressed some concerns at the quantity of cane required to produce one tonne of sugar at the Uitvlugt factory.
“Notwithstanding, there is another thing: it is not 10 tonnes (of cane for one tonne of sugar) anymore, it moved to about 15; so, it is about 15.63 tonnes cane to one tonne sugar. Cane production is a three-tiered process. You have the field, the cultivation; you have process between burning to the grinding process, and that is actually one of the most important elements that nobody is talking about; and then you have the factory operation,” he explained.
The CEO explained that the cane is losing value because of the time it takes to be transported from field to factory. He blamed that lengthy period on the lack of investment in the dams, the culverts and the drainage systems.
“Cane is something that loses its sucrose content pretty rapidly. Within 48 hours, you have material deterioration in the sucrose content. So, by the time you burn that cane, within 48 hours it has to be in a factory gate, ready to be lifted into the punt dumper. And if it comes beyond that, you (are) losing money,” Singh explained.
Earlier this year, the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers’ Union (GAWU) expressed grave concerns that the Uitvlugt Factory has been utilising almost 300 tonnes of cane to produce a tonne of sugar. It attributed that development to mechanical issues and lack of maintenance at the factory.
On that end, Uitvlugt Estate Manager Yudhisthira Mana on Thursday explained that the significant down-time as a result of strikes by workers, coupled with the Corporation’s inability to replace major components of the machines, has been challenging for the proper functioning of the estate.
“We would have had a significant amount of down- time, and to manage the cane processing was a little challenging for us; and so, what would have happened over the last couple of weeks is that we were not able to manage the burning-to-grinding intervals, causing several challenges within the processing house to manage the juice and to recover the sugar.
“Uitvlugt have always been challenged with producing cane to reach the factory and maximise on the cane recovery. We were having 85-90 grinding hours weekly, but here we have moved to over 110 average over the last two years, and to that end basically, what has happened is that the factory has been working more and we have been seeing failures more frequently than we are accustomed to. Also, not replacing major components has been the major bugbear for us ending up in this problem,” the Manager said while attempting to justify the cane-to-sugar ratio.
Just over a week ago, workers at Uitvlugt downed tools as they expressed their frustration with the growing inefficient functioning of the factory. The workers had related that for many weeks now they have been expressing their concerns to the senior management of the estate, and it appeared that their concerns were falling on deaf ears.
Workers shared that muddied canes are being delivered to the factory, and this is creating several headaches. Previously, a washing system was utilised to remove, to a great extent, the mud; however, this apparently has become ineffective. Apart from that, the factory is suffering from several severe defects.
Mana, when asked about those issues, failed to provide a comprehensive answer and a plan going forward. Rather, he blamed it all on a breakdown in communication.
“The strike was as a result of a breakdown in communication. Over the last couple of years, the input into the factory operation and to make the factory work better has been hindered, and so what would have happened for this crop alone – today is day 40 crushing – we would have had 204 hours’ down- time,” he said.
However, the estate manager failed to provide a plan, or even state, when asked, if those issues have been readily dealt with, and how recurrences would be addressed.
Additionally, he joined the CEO in appealing to the workers to understand that the Corporation is now in a transitional period, and rather than going on strikes, they should engage management and their unions more.
“My appeal to the workers is: ‘Let us all reach out to make sure we save sugar by giving a little bit more, because if we fail this time, we are in big trouble’. If there is an intention to strike, I want people to mediate a little more, talk to their seniors a little bit more, talk to their unions, make sure there is more collaboration to make sure that we all save this industry,” CEO Singh appealed.
The sugar company, at the beginning of the year, said it would produce 114,162 tonnes sugar – 46,475 tonnes in the first crop and 67,687 tonnes in the second crop.
However, based on its current numbers, it is estimated to produce just over 77,000 tonnes of sugar. (G2)