Bitter sugar…being sweetened

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Very commendably, the Government’s putting its money where its mouth is on sugar. The Irfaan Ali administration said they’d reopen the shuttered estates and bring them back to profitability, so that the rehired workers can get off the bread lines. The question on everybody’s lips, of course, is whether they can pull it off. The answer by the Opposition PNC – just as unsurprisingly – is a resounding “No!!” So what does your Eyewitness think??

Well, since humans – and the future of GuySuCo will ultimately depend on people – don’t obey the “ergodic principle” and will insist on acting in ways that sometimes defy logic, your Eyewitness can’t really say for sure. But he can certainly have a go on answering Lenin’s famous question, “What is to be done?” While Lenin was talking about the Russian Revolution which he had in mind, your Eyewitness thinks that for success in sugar, there will have to be a no-less-seismic revolution; not political, of course, but in strategic thinking and project implementation.

Make no mistake, this is going to be a war, and the Government will have to organise on that basis for success. As the newly appointed staff are finding out, we’re living in the tropics, and in two years, all those abandoned fields have literally reverted to jungle. Now, like they do before cane is about to be “cut” (nowadays they say “harvested”, as if the “cane harvesters” are picking flowers!) these wastelands will have to be burnt and then cleared. That’s going to take a whole heap of work, since the plants that sprung up would’ve sent roots deep into the soil.

Their best bet is to plough the fields, and then clear out these roots through “raking”. But where would they get the tractors to do the ploughing? It would appear that these have either been allowed to rust by the PNC, cannibalised, or sent to the “grinding” estates. It’ll take time to get new tractors, so it makes sense, as has been announced, that this programme might be contracted out. It’s going to cost a pretty penny.

While the trenches and canals have become overgrown with grass, this shouldn’t be a big problem to clear, since it’s just a matter of cutting the grass from its moorings. More intractable would be to clear the silt that would’ve been deposited to make the canals very shallow. But, up to now, we’re only talking about land preparation – no canes to be cut as yet!! To get there, we first have to get to the cultivation. New suitable cane stalks would have to be available – is this being made ready? – to be planted.

And then we’ll just have to wait at least a year, for cutting.

…being processed

So, let’s get this clear, dear reader: the first canes to be cut – thus demanding cane-cutters – are about two years away. And then we arrive at processing them in factories. And notice, dear reader, your Eyewitness didn’t say, “processing them in THE factories” – implying the present factories. By leaving them abandoned, the PNC ensured – as Jordan said – that they became scrap iron. In our climate, every Guyanese should know what happens if they leave machinery around unattended without maintenance!

Apart for Skeldon – save its troublesome diffuser – the other factories would have to be replaced. We can try to fix them up, of course, but that’ll generate so much maintenance issues that the cost of sugar extraction would be astronomical. We should take the bull by the horns and import some new factories. This time, however, we should go with India, since they’re much more proficient in this area than the Chinese – who stiffed us at Skeldon.

The good news is: we have two years to get the factories right.

…and progress

Your Eyewitness believes the PPP has hit the ground running, but that very success implies it will ensure that labour issues will continue to be a challenge in Demerara.

Mechanisation, anyone?