Letter: Downsizing sugar while increasing uncompetitive agriculture is shortsighted

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Dear Editor,

It was disturbing to learn from President Granger in his address at the opening of the West Berbice Expo that Guysuco will keep ‘open’ three estates – Albion, Blairmont, and Uitvlugt. While it seems the President sought to put a positive spin to the depressing news, I wish to advise the President and his communications team that no amount of lipstick on a pig would change the disheartening announcement.

The President in his address also referred to the various other agricultural outputs produced in Region Five. While some of the President’s figures seem suspect, let’s give him the benefit of the doubt. Probably with the exception of rice, very little, if any, of the Region’s agricultural output is exported. This is simply due to the fact that we are not able to be competitive.

Now, this very situation becomes confusing if not worrying. Rather than seek to correct the competitiveness issues, the Government is pushing GuySuCo which has literally no experience in areas like livestock, aquaculture, orchard farming, rice, etc to compete with existing farmers.

This is especially disconcerting taking into account we have a small and declining internal market coupled with economic contraction which is reducing incomes. In such circumstances, the Government has seen it wise somehow to have a state-owned Corporation which will benefit from certain fiscal incentives and other state-support in competition will small, peasant farmers who cannot compete. Many of those farmers would be forced out of business as Guysuco will be invading their markets. It is simply making a terrible situation even worst. The situation can be likened to digging a hole to fill a hole.

A smart Government would have sought to remedy the competitiveness issues to ensure that farmers have an opportunity to sell their output and at the best possible prices. But this seems not to be the case of the Granger Administration. Many experts have said, time and again, that Guyana has significant opportunities to can and preserve fruits and vegetables for the export market. Those experts have also pointed that a big bugbear is the high cost of energy to operate a cannery or food processing plant.

Here is where a great win-win opportunity exists. GuySuCo which already operates in many rural farming areas through the establishment of Co-Generation plants at their estates could sell electricity to canning and processing plants at a reasonable cost thus facilitating value-added agriculture while enhancing sugar’s revenues. In such a scenario, a major obstacle would have been surmounted and served to further deepen the agricultural drive in Guyana. But rather than developing such linkages which benefits all involved, the Government for whatever reason is seeking to increase food supply without any commensurate expansion of demand. This is most shortsighted and backward.

Yours sincerely,
Patricia Persaud

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