Detailing the troubled state of the sugar industry, Minister of Agriculture Zulfikar Mustapha is of the view that if the APNU/AFC Coalition had won the March 2 General and Regional Elections and returned to Government, this would have marked the end of sugar in Guyana.
According to Mustapha, when the Peoples Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) took office in August this year, it found a sugar industry that was in total decay.
He argued that the coalition’s aim was to stifle the industry for political reasons without being concerned about the devastating effects such a move would have, not only on the workers, but the thousands who depend on the money flowing from the sector.
“When you look at the entire performance of the last government in terms of sugar…one can conclude that they were trying their best to close sugar, and God forbid, if they would have gone back into government this time…that would have been the end of sugar,” Mustapha contended during a recent interview on Globespan.
Back in 2016, the APNU/AFC Coalition closed the Wales Estate and the following year, it had shut down the Enmore, Rose Hall and Skeldon Estates – pushing thousands of persons onto the breadline.
“The (APNU/AFC) Government closed the sugar industry just to punish the sugar workers,” Mustapha expressed, adding; “you could see the severe poverty that started with the closure of the estates.”
Turning his attention to the estates which are currently grinding, he outlined that the Coalition did not make any investments in them to ensure that they maintain a certain level of productivity.
“If you go now and look at the factories that are presently grinding – Uitvlught, Albion and Blairmont – they are grinding just about 60 per cent capacity, because over the last five years, they have not done any capital works,” he outlined.
According to the Agriculture Minister, prior to the closure of the four sugar estates, GuySuCo was providing employment for over 16,000 persons.
He detailed that when the estates were closed, thousands of persons were pushed into poverty, and in addition to the immediate families of these employees, many more, including small businesses, who depended indirectly on these workers were also severely affected.
The current administration is now moving steadily to revive the sugar estates that were closed and has already taken a number a crucial measures in this regard.
Mustapha said his Ministry is hoping to have a public-private partnership for GuySuCo, which would ensure not only the Government’s but also the Private Sector’s involvement in the industry.
The Minister has since met with both the Private Sector Commission (PSC) and the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI), which have both expressed interest in investing in the local sugar industry and GuySuCo.
Indian High Commissioner to Guyana His Excellency Dr K J Srinivasa over the last weekend visited the closed estates and signalled his willingness to promote Guyana’s sugar industry to India.
According to the Agriculture Minister, he is hopeful that the High Commissioner’s visit to the estates would see Expressions of Interest from Indian nationals who are looking to invest in the local sugar industry.
Meanwhile, at Skeldon, more than one hundred persons have been reemployed to do fieldwork while Rosehall has re-employed one hundred and seventy-five persons in the field. This is in addition to factory workers. That estate is expected to re-employ a further two hundred persons to carry out fieldwork by the end of the year.
In excess of two hundred and fifty punts has so far been resuscitated and are ready for use when the factory recommences operation.
Over the next two months, a further two hundred persons are expected to be reemployed to plant and carry out crop husbandry including fertilising of the new canes.
According to the Agriculture Minister, it is hoped that in the coming year that estate will have planting material to cultivate other fields.
The Minister has expressed that the Skeldon sugar factory should start producing sugar by early 2022. However, Rosehall is predicting that sugar production will start on the estate by the end of 2021.