Home Letters Workers and investors can turn around sugar industry
Private cane farming has shown to be very profitable while the State-owned estates are running at a loss. As my political science professor on the Soviet Union used to say, socialist workers will not go to the farm at five in the morning to cultivate crops, and even when they showed up at the farm late, they would not work efficiently. But they will tend to the farm even before five in the morning if they own the produce.
That was amply demonstrated in Guyana and Trinidad where I did research on cane production during the 1980s and 1990. In every society, private cane farming has been more efficiently managed than State-owned farming and very profitable. So sugar does not have to be closed as it can be profitable if placed in the hands of the workers or even private investors who can and will turn around the industry.
Government is courting social disaster in closing down estates as I found this in my research among sugar workers in Wales Estate. Thousands will lose work with no alternative form of employment resulting in many socio-economic problems. Thus, it is the interest of Government to revive cane cultivation in Wales. Government should give the workers the land for cultivation and a private investor to run the sugar mill (and cultivate undistributed land). Politicians in previous Governments viewed the sugar industry as a cash cow to enrich themselves at the expense of workers. So the industry and the workers acquired a bad name when it can be profitable. The industry should not be closed down for political reasons. Instead, it should be put in the hands of the workers themselves in collaboration with private companies.
Private companies know how to eliminate waste, redundancy, corruption and inefficiency and to maximise productivity. Companies in India, for example, are experts at growing cane and making huge profits. They grind cane from private farmers. No part of the cane is wasted and every part of the cane brings in money – molasses to make stock feeds, ethanol, etc, baggaze to make card board, energy, etc). Several African and Asian countries where State-owned cultivation was losing money, have turned to Indian sugar companies to manage or run their sugar industries. And sugar has been very profitable for them.
Government, therefore, should move to distribute the cane lands to the sugar workers (who can form cooperatives) to grow cane. Milling should be handed over to private management as some African and Asian countries have done. Our estate land is ideally suited for cane; other crops may be difficult in light of the cane culture. This does not mean other crops should be discouraged. But the infrastructure for cane is still at Wales.
Government can start on an experimental basis with land distribution at Wales Estate giving the land to the former sugar workers to form co-ops or individually to grow cane for a revived modernised mill in the hands of a private investor.
Since Government wants to divest itself of sugar, the Government can invite interested companies or investors to take over and run the closed mill. The prospective investors can also be offered lease land to grow cane; many jobs will be created for the surrounding unemployed. The industry will be turned around under this proposed scheme.