I WISH to follow up on a brilliant piece written by Howard University Professor, Dr. Kenrick Hunte, entitled, ‘Policy makers must decide to downsize and diversify sugar cane production.’

In November 2005, the European Union (EU) announced a set of measures to reform the EU sugar regime. Basically and clearly it meant the end of EU importation of cane sugar as a primary product from African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries.

The EU generously gave these countries ample forewarning and a four-year grace period to “fix” their houses during which time the EU preferential price for ACP sugar would decline substantially, but with certain compensatory measures to help these countries withstand the economic shock and re-structure their sugar industries.

For Guyana, whose EU quota was 159,000 tonnes at a price of €524 per tonne, it meant a loss of almost €200 per tonne in four years. Since the EU absorbed about 80 percent of Guyana’s sugar, this spelled disaster for the already ailing industry, and worse for a country whose social, economic and political super-structures were founded on sugar.

It is for this latter reason, I believe, in addition to Guyana enjoying a comparative advantage over other Caricom sugar-producing countries, that Guyana held on to its sugar industry, while at the same time hoping to corner the CARICOM market as a result of the collapsing sugar industries in CARICOM countries.
Unfortunately, the US$200M spent on restructuring Skeldon was done under purely political considerations, the project given to contractors with exploitative and hegemonic intentions, and the Government risking, as it were, all our eggs in one basket without any in-depth feasibility studies being done regarding diversification, secondary and tertiary production and linkage industries. Dr. Hunte made this a very imperative requirement in his analysis.
I would like to submit that all is not lost for Guyana’s sugar industry; that it can, like a good chess player, turn a situation of disadvantage into one of tremendous advantage, and that sugar which from time immemorial has been synonymous with bitter oppression, can indeed assume a sweet taste.

Further, I would like to maintain that, just as sugar has been used historically by imperialists as an instrument to create great social aberrations – racial divisions, poverty, racial crimes, etc – it can similarly be used to revolutionise the industry and correct those same aberrations in society.

For two main reasons sugar has never been a solid foundation for any economy. Both reasons can be expressed with one word – alienation. In the first place, despite its labour intensiveness, sugar production depends heavily on foreign capital (tractors, machinery, fuel, fertilisers, packaging, etc.) the price of which is dictated by the developed counties – the same countries that buy our sugar – also at a price dictated by them. Sugar companies are totally alienated from the pricing mechanism and have absolutely no control of the terms of trade which have mercilessly always taken an unfavourable course against sugar.

Apart from alienation from the pricing process, alienation in the context of Guyana is also manifested in a more devastating way.

Labour is alienated from capital.

The industry, formerly owned by foreign capitalists, continues to be operated as if it is still of that era. Thus, a feeling of alienation still exists with labour, and perhaps more so since the nationalisation of the sugar industry.

The chief result of alienation is declining productivity of all factors of production – land, labour and capital.

Throughout the history of sugar, the general response to declining productivity has been (a) increased capitalisation, and (b) increased management and further tightening of labour supervision. Both responses, unfortunately, eventually lead to further alienation. There has never been any significant structural change to address the issue of alienation. The panacea has therefore always addressed the symptom, not the problem itself.

Despite increased capitalisation, production has not generally moved to secondary or tertiary stages, but constrained, through unfavourable and dictated trade agreements, to remain at raw-material level, that is, the U.S. and EU only let us have a preferential price or reduced tariff for our raw sugar, not processed sugar. This was acceptable so long as we enjoyed indefinite preferential treatment.
The U.S. buys only about five percent of our raw sugar at a preferential price which itself is not fixed, but continually decreases. Because of the constantly deteriorating price and fixed quota, the industry cannot increase its income even if it increases production. In addition, because of the deteriorating terms of trade, real income persistently decreases as it costs more and more in foreign capital to produce at a fixed quantity of sugar.

Preferences in trade today are granted to countries with commodities-say uranium or oil-which are highly valued and are in strong demand, particularly for security reasons. Preferences are granted by countries that overtly or covertly expect something else in return, such as political or ideological alliances or military support. In some cases and times, geo-political importance plays a part in obtaining preferences. In short, global liberalisation of trade is not likely to become a reality because of the hard-line practices of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and first world manipulations, for example, agricultural subsidies, which delimit fair trade and make the playing field very rough indeed for Third World countries.

And cane sugar is no longer a commodity of power. Neither the EU nor the U.S. manifests strong interest in our cane sugar, or our infinitesimal military or political alliance.

For Guyana, unlike its CARICOM neighbours whose main economic industries are non-agricultural, agriculture is the single most important sector of Guyana’s economy, both in terms of foreign-exchange generation and the number of persons employed. Sugar and sugar-based products contribute almost 20 percent to GDP, and in terms of foreign exchange, earns about US$135.0 million a year. One in every seven persons is directly or indirectly connected to sugar in Guyana.

Since abandoning the sugar industry is not an option for Guyana, and pursuing preferences and subsidies is a deadbeat issue for us, how then can the Guyana sugar industry survive?

I would like to outline some revolutionary ways that I feel would definitely help.

Firstly, the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) will have to change its name to the Guyana Agricultural Corporation. This implies it will have to embark on a massive diversification programme.
Previous attempts at diversification failed for a number of reasons, the main one being the alienation problem. The workers who worked in the Other Crops Division (OCD) of GuySuCo were no more than subjugated servants producing tilapia, cheese, milk and yams for managerial staff. They tasted no benefits from their labour, and there were widespread reports of wholesale stealing of tilapia and yams. They sabotaged the works and the OCD became a liability to GuySuCo. It is no wonder that World Bank/IMF required GuySuCo, then, to terminate its original diversification programme, according to Fritz McLean, former GuySuCo Crop Diversification Director, (SN 08/11/2015).

Therefore, to make diversification work, the issue of alienation must be addressed. My proposal in tackling this issue may be called the Diversified Mobilisation Plan (or any other attractive name). This plan will not only address the alienation issue, but also the issue of declining productivity of land, labour and capital.

Declining productivity, as mentioned before, is the chief cause of increasing costs of production and the direct result of the alienation process explained above. For simplification, I would like to outline my Diversified Mobilisation Plan in a number of parts. These parts are not mutually exclusive; they are concurrent.

The Diversified Mobilisation Plan calls for the sugar workers to become lease owners of the cane lands. Acreages and terms of lease (5-10 years) varying according to years of service of the workers. Leases are renewable only to those who maintain a certain level of productivity. In terms of cane production, productivity is measured by the ratio of tonnes of cane or tones of sugar per acre. For other crops a productivity/investment ratio could be used. Consistent productivity over, say a period of 10 years could result in full (conditional) ownership of the land.

In the case of factory and office workers, they could be made shareholders in the Corporation, in which event their productivity would be measured, say, in terms of decreasing factory and office down-time, or other devised measures of efficiency.

The second part of the Diversified Mobilisation Plan calls for the earmarking of GuySuCo lands, most of it already primed with an excellent drainage and irrigation system, for certain crops depending on soil suitability or, in some cases, proximity to utilities and social infrastructure. Thus, there would be allocations for citrus, pineapple, cocoa and coffee, livestock (dairy, cattle, pigs and poultry), and other products. Dairy farmers would plant antelope grass, perhaps on a cooperative basis. Again, lease-holders are committed to a certain production level or face non-renewal on the expiration of their leases.

The third part of the Plan involves GuySuCo embarking on a massive capital investment programme that would build factories to process milk into cheese; factories to use milk, cocoa and sugar, nuts and other fruits to produce chocolate and confectionery; and factories to can pineapple and citrus juices, jams and jellies, and fruits such as mangoes, pineapples, coconuts, etc. Imagine Guyana will no longer be selling its tropical nuts and fruits, cocoa and sugar at the dictated prices of Developed Countries (DC), then turn back and buy their chocolate, again at the dictated price of the DCs. Instead, Guyana would be biting into the CARICOM confectionery markets currently controlled by the DCs.

A fourth part of the Plan calls for in-depth research and analysis by GuySuCo of the North American markets, particularly New York, New Jersey, Florida and Toronto, which are rapidly becoming cities of immigrants whose demand for tropical foods is growing exponentially; and to embark on a greater integration and supervision of the cultivation, processing and exportation to those immigrants the highly demanded items such as pepper sauce and achars, condiments, chataigne and breadfruit; vegetables; all types of fruits (mangoes, sapodillas, guavas, star apples, dunks); beverages in concentrates (sorrel, mauby, mango; jams and jellies; fish and seafood (hassar, tilapia, snapper, prawns, shrimp).

The Guyana Consulates/Embassies must thus be fortified with skilled trade officers and not mere cynosures.

It is unfortunate that only a small percentage of the tropical foods demanded by Guyanese in New York actually comes from Guyana. The demand for Guyanese foods is so great from Guyanese and other West Indians that many stores falsely advertise hassar, eggplants, pumpkin and dozens of other items as originating from Guyana.

At the same time GuySuCo would investigate the viability of growing some of the very tropical and temperate produce that Guyana imports, such as garlic, onions, cinnamon, geera, turmeric, potato, split peas and a host of others, and to vigorously pursue a strong foothold into the multi-billion-dollar food-importing industry of the Caribbean.

The next part of the Plan is to attract the youth from areas of high unemployment such as Georgetown, Buxton, Rosehall, etc. and (1) lease them the marginal cane lands bordering their villages (converting bandits’ nests into productive entities), and (2) train them in the skills of farming, livestock-rearing, carpentry, building bio-gas digesters (which will use the waste from their farms). The GuySuCo Port Mourant Training School in collaboration with UG and the Guyana School of Agriculture will have their work cut out for them.

President David Granger recently appealed for a revival of the village economies. This might well be the opportunity to return the people to the soil, to dis-alienate them from their birthright. It is man’s proximity to the land from whence derives all moral values, honesty and the sweetness of one’s own sweat. This might well be the means to return the pride of local artisanship for which many villages were once noted.

Now, the imperialist banks or countries may not want to lend us the money to embark on this Plan. How do we raise funds? Simply by selling Agriculture Development Bonds to the three-quarter million overseas Guyanese (as well as local investors). I have no doubt that just as they repatriate US$100 million annually to Guyana without expecting any returns, they would gladly invest in these bonds that promise and guarantee good interest. After all, the world’s demand for food is always increasing, and which other country devoid of natural disasters possesses such potential for food production?

You may call me a dreamer as John Lennon sang; but let’s face it, either we embark on revolutionary changes in GuySuCo or face the stark reality of massive lay-offs, crime, migration, and possible economic regression. I think we can make Guyana the Food Basin of the Caribbean.


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