Tough challenge ahead
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Agriculture Minister, Noel Holder
Agriculture Minister, Noel Holder

New GuySuCo board to hit the ground running

The Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) Board of Directors has been made official now that it has been published in the official gazette.

The names of the newly-appointed directors were published in the official gazette on Saturday. According to the gazette, the members of the Board of Directors were submitted by Agriculture Minister Noel Holder and approved by Cabinet to serve for a period of two years – September 1, 2018 to August 31, 2020.

The newly-appointed directors are John Dow (Chairman), John Browman, Richard Cumberbatch, Paul Cheong, Vishnu Panday, Fritz Mc Lean, Ramesh Persaud, Roy Hanoman, Claude Housty and Dr. Harold Davis as an ex-officio member. It was gazette by Minister of State, Joseph Harmon.

At a recent press conference, the agriculture minister told reporters that once the appointment of the members of the Board of Directors has been published in the official gazette, he will distribute the appointment letters.

Touting the board as one of the best boards to govern the sugar corporation to date, Minister Holder said the new directors come with a wealth of experience in the field of agriculture and more so sugar production and manufacturing.

“Everyone on the board knows sugar and knows agriculture, and they have a lot of experience not only in Guyana but internationally,” he told reporters. According to him; the board, headed by John Dow will meet in the coming week. As agriculture minister, he is likely to meet with the board shortly after its first meeting.

Under this new board, the agriculture minister is optimistic that the sugar corporation, which has fallen on difficulty times in recent years, would begin to return to a state of profitability.

“It can’t do so by producing 55,000 tonnes of sugar cane per hectare, that has to be raised to 70,000 tonnes of sugar cane and beyond,” he said.
But in an effort to increase the yields, Minister Holder said that millions of dollars would be needed to rehabilitate and upgrade the three remaining factories.

“The factories are all run down and they need to be refurbished,” he posited. According to him, the new Board is fully aware of its mandate. He noted that the Commission of Inquiry into the sugar corporation had clearly stated what needed to be done to revive GuySuCo and by extension the local sugar industry.

“Get your fields in order, that means you have to buy new field equipment, new tractors, you have to get your factories up to standard and then having got to that stage of increased productivity, we then move on to value added, having got the factories and the fields in order you can now go to do plantation white sugar, a higher value product… having done that, the last stage is cogeneration. But you cannot do cogeneration, if you don’t have bagasse, and currently you probably barely have enough bagasse produced at 55,000 tonnes of sugar per hectare,” Minister Holder said as he explained the stages of transformation GuySuCo is expected to undergo.

Shortly after the announcement of his appointment was made, Dow told the Guyana Chronicle that it would be an uphill task to bring the sugar corporation back to affordability but he is up for the challenge.

VETERAN
Dow now sits at the helm of the corporation with experience in the sugar industry spanning more than four decades having worked in Guyana, Zambia, Jamaica, and Barbados.
Dow is hopeful that the sugar industry, under his watch, returns to a state of profitability. However, he also made it clear that it is no easy task given GuySuCo’s current state of affairs and the price of sugar on the global market.
“As you know the sugar industry, because of the low price of raw sugar worldwide, is now suffering,” he said.

The challenges in the sugar industry are not limited to Guyana, Dow said, while noting that Jamaica, Belize, Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago have experienced difficulties, and in some cases, continue to experience their fair share of challenges.

“As you may know, Trinidad had to shut down their industry, Antigua went out of sugar many years ago…. In the Caribbean really it is only Guyana, Belize, Jamaica and Barbados that are still producing sugar and I think that you will find that only in Belize, the actual production has improved, but all the others, Jamaica, Barbados and Guyana…for example, Barbados had three factories up to mid-2002, they now only have one, and that is the situation, it is very challenging,” he explained to this newspaper.

Like the Agriculture Minister, Dow believes that with increased production of value added products, the sugar corporation would be able to revive itself.

“Well I don’t know if we could ever attain profitability in the near future, but certainly, that it is the sort of thing we would be looking at, what can be done to improve the local sugar industry, in the sense of getting it to a point where hopefully it can be self-sufficient or only need minimum subsidies,” Dow said.

He emphasised that a lot depends the price of sugar over the next two years, and the corporation’s ability to expand in other areas such as the production of plantation white sugar and cogeneration while improving on its current products. Sale of plantation white sugar to the local, CARICOM, and USA markets could see the corporation earning more and simultaneously displacing the importation of refined sugar regionally.

Dow noted too that based on his analysis, the corporation needs to maximise its output. “We need to improve our yield in the fields – that is very important. Right now our yields are not to the level tonnes cane per hectare, it is not up to the level we would like it to be,” he noted.

Alluding to the findings and recommendations of the 2015 CoI into GuySuCo, Dow, while noting that the report is still relevant, said much work needs to be done to improve the present infrastructure. “GuySuCo has a lot of equipment that should have been replaced over the years but haven’t had the opportunity to be replaced because of low capital,” he pointed out.

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