Resetting sugar industry must be contextualised

Dear Editor,
It is not news anymore, to rehash the words of Agriculture Minister Zulfikar Mustapha, when he recently stated that “… the PPP/C Government inherited dilapidated and neglected estates from the former Government, a far cry from the estates the APNU/AFC inherited in 2015”. And that is why the current efforts at restoration and re-purposing of these estates must be contextualised. In this missive, I will make my comments, and hopefully the cavillers will be put to rest.
Anyone can access the information and ratify that when APNU/AFC downsized the sugar industry there was the dismissal of 5160 workers, including 1889 from Skeldon Estate and 1531 from East Demerara Estate. Dismissals from the Wales and Rose Hall Estates both numbered below 1000. And that act wreaked havoc in the homes of the affected.
Let me illustrate, and at the same time inform readers what the present Government is still dealing with. An independent and candid June 2021 report by the United Nations International Labour Organisation (UN ILO) pinpointed an increase in suicide, crime, and alcohol consumption, after the closure of four sugar estates by the former regime. The details showed that “Entire communities were sent into depression because of the sheer dominance of sugar estates for income, employment, business prospects, aspirations of families,” local economist and author of the study, Dr Thomas Singh said, as the findings were made public. Think on this a bit: “According to the report, weekly household incomes fell by 64 per cent, from an average of $32,238 to $18,450 after the closures.” To even attempt recouping from such a catastrophe is unimaginable. So, I cannot understand these loud-mouthed attackers of the current Administration.
Right now, kudos are in order, as it was just reported by President Dr Irfaan Ali, that “Govt will ensure work be found for sugar workers”. Directing his comments to the ‘ou0t-of-work sugar workers’, attached previously to the Uitvlugt Sugar Estate, the President gave assurance that “… work would be found for them and that every effort was being made to get the estate operational”. Monumental undertaking indeed, but such was the damage left, and it must be matched by an ‘immensity of effort and re-strategisation.’ Let’s bear in mind that the factory has been grappling with issues affecting its equipment, but the President was nevertheless able to organise temporary employment for out-of-work cane harvesters of the Uitvlugt Estate.
He also announced that the estate would find alternative work for six days per week on a short-term basis for the sugar workers. Thus, he was right on target when he stated that, “You have a Government who understands your pain; you have a Government who is committed to working with you and helping you. As we said when we came back, we are here to ensure that the sugar sector succeed and ensure that we keep employment and not displace employment”.
The big word of comfort is that even though there are mechanical issues, the Government has procured another piece of equipment that would be delivered in July. And in the meantime, there is a search for a factory in Miami, Florida, that has similar facilities, and where parts can be sourced.
A sweet note to end on is that plans are unfolding to register the workers to be part of a livelihood improvement programme to supplement their estate jobs. One of the options is the establishment of chicken farming facilities, where workers could take part in poultry farming with approximately 150-200 birds.
As I stated already. The damage left by the last Government is still having repercussions. But ‘bit-by-bit’ measures are coming to the fore, to once again revive and re-stabilise the sugar industry, and when and where necessary, redirect and repurpose operations and functions. The bottom line is that the Government is very people-centred, and employment will always be a top priority.

Yours truly,
H Singh