Forty thousand tonnes of sugar by 2020 is achievable but lack of labour would severely hamper that target, according to Uitvlugt Estate Manager, Yudhisthira Mana. However, Mana identified that if that target is not met then the estate would incur a loss.
Mana was at the time addressing a gathering of sugar workers, community leaders
and residents of Uitvlugt Village, West Coast Demerara. The Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) is conducting a series of community outreaches in sugar dependent communities throughout the country. This comes on the heels of the closure of the Wales Estate and the Government’s proposed closure of the Enmore, Rose Hall and Skeldon Estates.
The aim of the outreaches includes creating awareness of the need for employees to show up to harvest cane and mobilising community leaders and other stakeholders, such as customers, suppliers, government, private and civil society sectors around the importance of improving attendance on all Estates.
With the closure of the Wales Estate, the sugar cane processed at the facility is sent to the Uitvlugt Estate and, according to Mana, the target of 40,000 tonnes of sugar by the year 2020 is an ‘achievable’ task. He noted that the factory is expected to produce some 18,000 tonnes of sugar by the end of 2017.
Forty thousand tonnes challenge
The greater the target, the greater the challenges of achieving that, Mana says. He
adds that the major hindrance towards achieving the target is the failure of workers to attend work. Some 375 workers, harvesters and planters, from the Wales Estate refused to take the approximate 45 minutes commute to the Uitvlugt Estate and as a result, production is severely hampered.
“We will be the only sugar producing estate in the Demerara region and we will not have to go up to Berbice for sugar to supply our demands anymore,” Mana explained.
He made those statements while presenting the Uitvlugt Estate Improvement Programme (UEIP) to the stakeholders. However, when questioned about the cost attached to the factory upgrade, to facilitate the achievement of the proposed target, Mana was unable to provide an answer.
The estate would require over 520,000 tonnes of sugar cane to achieve its target requiring some 6,005.9 hectares of land to be cultivated. This would create employment for over 1,700 persons and would influence communities along the West Bank and Coast of Demerara and the East Bank of Essequibo.
Part of the UEIP encourages members of the communities to encourage the workers to attend work on a regular basis to maximize production.
Mana told the gathering that he is confident that the agricultural team at the Uitvlugt estate would be able to reach the target but adequate labour is needed. “We have the ability, we have the commitment, we have the togetherness to make this a reality…we recognise that we don’t have adequate labour force to take us through 40,000 tonnes of sugar,” he related.
“Not reaching the 40,000 tonnes will definitely increase the cost of production and everything that depends on the revenue coming out of that will be stymied,” he added.
The New GuySuCo
GuySuCo’s Senior Communications Officer, Audreyanna Thomas, spoke extensively on the ‘New GuySuCo’ and how it seeks to diversify the sugar industry. She noted that the plan proposes a two-component approach- the sugar component and the diversification component.
The sugar component include the amalgamation of the Albion-Rose Hall, Blairmont and Uitvlugt Estates with an expected 147,000 tonnes of sugar produced annually. This estimated production will support the demands of the markets with the break down being 25,000 tonnes for local consumption, 50-60,000 tonnes for CARICOM and Regional markets, 12,500 tonnes for the US market and 50,000 tonnes for the World markets.
While the diversification aspect includes exploring the possibilities of the aquaculture – the rearing of tilapia and dairy farming – the establishment of two milking farms at the Wales Estate. There are feasibility studies conducted on both aspects and favourable reports have been handed in.
Thomas said that the new GuySuCo would see massive training programmes for employees so that they would be able to fit-in in alternative careers. She noted communities affected by the closure of estates and those in areas where estates are still operable are ‘vulnerable and susceptible’ to the challenges of GuySuCo.
She added that this needs to change and as a result, they are embarking on the Sustainable Community Development Programme since they see an immediate need for it. She notes that this programme includes the need for improved attendance at the estates and urged the community members to join the GuySuCo Voluntary Network so that they can be informed of the happenings of the sugar industry.
Wales still operable
Following the closure of the Wales Factory, in December of 2016, GuySuCo began its diversification process by planting some 200 hectares of seed paddy on what used to be sugar cane land. According to the estate’s manager, Devendra Kumar, sugar is an ever-evolving process and one that has been bringing in ‘pretty’ low returns. In justifying the diversification of the estate, he said that the industry needed to be reshaped and retooled to become a multifaceted one.
Kumar said that over 6,500 hectares of seed paddy is needed to supply the demands of the rice industry in Guyana and committed to doubling the current number of hectares under cultivation at Wales. He added that the diversification would see workers, who opted for severance, be given the opportunity to lease lands for dairy farming or other crop production.
The first meeting, was on Thursday last, at the Wales Community Centre and the sugar workers stormed out following a dispute between the former Estate Manager of Wales Factory and the workers. However, the workers say that they are not going to attend the Uitvlugt outreach although some of them work at the estate.
They related that they would continue to call for their severance pay since Uitvlugt Estate “is share blows.”
At Thursday’s meeting, the workers were told that they would be fired if they fail to turn up for work at the Uitvlugt Estate. However, the workers stood their ground and informed the GuySuCo officials that they refuse to attend work at the estate.
Since the closure of the Wales Estate in December of 2016, some 1700 workers have been directly affected and thousands of persons in the Wales and surrounding communities indirectly affected.
Some 375 workers are yet to be paid their severance by GuySuCo. They are planning to seek an audience with Public Security Minister Khemraj Ramjattan, who visited the community in March, for him to provide an update on the position of his promises.
The workers also plan to meet with their union, the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers’ Union (GAWU), for an update on the court proceedings against GuySuCo.
However, when contacted, GAWU President Komal Chand said that there is not much of an update for the workers since the case has not been called yet. He added that the union would provide updates as the matter progresses and noted that if the workers ask they are informed of the status.
“We are in the process of completing a petition and getting the workers to sign so we can take it directly to the President so he can look into the matter,” Chand said.