Sugar industry avenues for success initiatives must be thoroughly considered

Dear Editor,
The GAWU noted Mr Tony Vieira’s letter which appeared in the media on November 1, 2020. Mr Vieira contended that the Guyanese sugar industry would be better served by producing ethanol instead of sugar. This is, for us, not a new position coming from Mr Vieira and we have heard it from him on several occasions in the past. Our Union, for its part, remains supportive of initiatives that will allow the sugar industry to not only strive but thrive. And, we are a strong proponent of sugar diversification and believe that the success of the industry is connected with a diversified product base.
On the issue of ethanol, the GAWU is aware that this matter was considered several times in the past. We are aware that those studies had indicated that ethanol was not viable. The most recent work that we are aware of was done by the Sugar CoI. The CoI pointed out whether ethanol was fermented from cane juice or from molasses it was simply not feasible vis-à-vis the cost of fossil fuels. In fact, the CoI noted that ethanol would have only been a worthwhile measure if sugar prices had fallen to US$170 per tonne, currently sugar is being sold at US$320 per tonne.
Moreover, that examination was conducted when the cost of a barrel of oil stood at US$45. At the time of preparing this response, oil prices hovered around US$35 per barrel further eroding the attractiveness of ethanol. Nonetheless, the GAWU does not wish to throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater and maybe it is that Mr Vieira is recognising something that no one else is seeing. Therefore, an updated study may be useful since Mr Vieira’s advocacy for the ethanol business is based on ethanol yields of 22 gallons per tonne cane. While we cannot confirm or dispute this quoted yield, there is no evidence to confirm that one tonne of GuySuCo’s cane will yield 22 gallons of ethanol. We, therefore, urge that the industry’s demonstration ethanol plant at Albion be used to study ethanol yields from GuySuCo’s cane to provide first-hand data and associated cost/benefit.
In further support for his position on ethanol, Mr Vieira argues that ethanol production requires less power which will result in bagasse being available for other purposes. At first glance, this comes over as very convincing, however, Mr Vieira deliberately omits the fact that a number of processes identical to sugar manufacture are required to make cane juice available for ethanol production. These prerequisite processes are major energy users and have to be employed in ethanol or sugar production. Therefore, there is no major reduction in energy demand since the big energy users are still required. We urge Mr Vieira to provide an energy balance for sugar versus ethanol from juice to support the energy reduction claim.
In considering ethanol, we must consider our nascent oil sector which is expected to grow from strength to strength in the coming years. This could be the cause of even further declines in fuel prices locally and GuySuCo ought to take this into account. We did see that Mr Vieira did not confine himself to Guyana and argued a ready market was available in the US for instance. Again these and other factors have to be taken into account in deciding the way forward.
Mr Vieira also urges that GuySuCo and/or the Government pursue ventures into aquaculture. This again is something the gentleman has been urging for some time. We recall that Mr Vieira advocated that the Corporation pursue this venture at Wales following the sudden decision to close the estate at the end of 2016. We are aware too that the Corporation did commission a study and Mr Vieira himself, in a different dispensation, was involved in seeking to get the venture off the ground. Of course, we are not aware of the reason/s for the failure to launch given the seeming attractiveness of the proposal.
It seems that aquaculture is an idea that Mr Vieira is deeply committed to and from his letter very passionate about. We should not forget though that the Corporation did experiment with aquaculture in the past with miserable results. Certainly, these are paining the Corporation can ill-afford at this time. It, therefore, may be prudent for Mr Vieira, given his strong beliefs, to approach the Agriculture Ministry to pursue a trial of his idea at the Satyadeow Sawh Aquaculture Station for instance. The lessons learnt may be useful for the expansion of the initiative. Nevertheless, we believe, we have sufficient land for both the sugar industry and the aquaculture industry to coexist.
Mr Vieira’s letter came in response to letter written by former President Donald Ramotar which we also considered as well. Indeed, much of what was written by the former President aligns with the GAWU’s views and we agree with him that there are several worthwhile possibilities. In his letter, Comrade Donald also spoke about the Union’s unwillingness to become involved in the management of the industry. While we are unsure of what he really means, the GAWU, however, has never shied away from expressing its willingness to work collaboratively with the management towards the success of the industry. We hold the view that it is through the collective efforts of all stakeholders – the Government, the management and the workers/Union – that the industry will succeed.
Also, the former President, apparently, expressed a dim view of the Union seeking pay rises for workers. We hope that is not really the case. But our Union has no qualms in seeking workers benefit from a rise in pay. Comrade Donald, who emerged from the GAWU, is very much aware of our Union’s proud stance in standing with and advocating for the sugar workers and all Union members for that matter. But, the former President also knows of the treatment sugar workers received over the last five (5) years. He certainly would be aware that the workers got not a single cent in pay increase. He knows too that many of their benefits were simply taken away by an uncaring and unkind cabal who hadn’t a sliver of sympathy for sugar workers and their families. And, he is knowledgeable of the sustained struggles by the workers to be treated fairly and justly. Certainly, the workers have not abandoned their just struggles and the Union will not abandon them. Comrade Donald is aware of the GAWU’s commitment to its members and we want to assure him that our Union has not departed from its principles it upheld when he was a senior leader of the Union.
The letters of Mr Vieira and former President Ramotar we see are yet another part of the continued active interest paid to the sugar industry and the several opportunities for viability. The GAWU also believes that a successful future awaits the industry and we are heartened by the commitment of Government and the level of support that the industry is receiving. We sincerely hold that the industry can turn around and play an even more meaningful role in Guyana. These are views also shared by Messrs Vieira and Ramotar albeit from different perspectives. What is most reassuring is that we have a political administration that undertook to bring the industry out of the doldrums and restore it to its rightful place. We of the GAWU are ready to play our part and stand with the workers who will also play a critical role.

Yours faithfully,
Seepaul Narine
General Secretary,