–sends technical team to analyse estates, signals strong interest to invest
SUGAR had lost its ‘taste’ over the years, becoming an industry that depended on Government bailouts to stay afloat, but a new impetus and strategic plan derived by the new Government have not only ‘breathed’ life into local ‘sugar-dependent’ communities, but has attracted one of the world’s wealthiest states, Dubai, which has signalled a strong interest to invest here. This willingness to invest in sugar was initially expressed by members of the eight-member delegation from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which visited Guyana in November, this year. The team led by his Highness, Sheikh Ahmed Dalmook Al Maktoum of Dubai, met with President, Dr. Irfaan Ali and senior Government officials, and held discussions on oil and gas; infrastructure and agriculture.
It was reported that individual members of the team were interested in specific sectors, but this newspaper understands that the “key sectors” took “centre stage”.
Minister of Agriculture, Zulfikar Mustapha, who was present at the meeting, told the Guyana Chronicle that he highlighted the opportunities in agriculture to the investors, placing specific emphasis on sugar, poultry, goat and rice. “They indicated their willingness to invest, so another team came back recently to look at sugar… a team from GuySuCo [The Guyana Sugar Corporation] accompanied the visiting team on a tour of all the estates… so they went and examined all the estates already,” said Minister Mustapha during an exclusive interview with the Guyana Chronicle on Wednesday. The visiting team comprised mainly experts, who had a specific task of analysing the operations and viability of Guyana’s sugar estates. “I had a chat with them after their visit to the estates and they seemed very interested… remember they are technical people and not policy makers, so whatever they observe they have to take back to the policy makers… but they were impressed with the sugar industry in Guyana, in terms of investing and so on,” said the agriculture minister. Dubai is no stranger to sugar, as this State is home to the world’s largest port-based sugar refinery, Al Khaleej Sugar Co.
The state is also known for the Dubai Sugar Conference, which, since 2016, has gone on to become the most-awaited event in the world of sugar. This forum provides a platform for leading sugar producers, refiners, importers, traders, industrial users, financial institutions, and analysts, shipping companies and service providers from all over the world to come together to ponder and chart the future course of action. The institutional knowledge garnered by Dubai over the years will possibly reach the shores of Guyana soon, as this country is particularly interested in rebuilding its ailing sugar industry through Public-Private Partnerships.
In 2017, the former A Partnership for National Unity + Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) Coalition Government had announced the closure of several sugar estates across the country. The move saw four sugar estates being closed, and 7,000 sugar workers losing their jobs.
Plans are afoot to not just rehire persons, but to return this industry to viability through coordinated and prudent management, which is expected to come from both private and public stakeholders. Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of GuySuCo, Sasenarine Singh, was reported as saying that the Government has received 10 Expressions of Interest (EoIs) from foreign companies, and one proposal from a local investor. Information on the investors’ identities remain confidential at this time, but Singh, during a press briefing at GuySuCo on Monday, said the proposals will soon be reviewed. Singh, while not divulging details of the actual proposals, said interests have been expressed in sugar refinery, ethanol production, agro-energy, a distillery and packaged sugar, among other things.
“GuySuCo is on a change plan; we have refashioned the way we are doing things. We have re-engineered the way we are thinking at GuySuCo; the whole vision at GuySuCo right now is to move up the value chain as fast as we can within the constraints of finances, and, in addition to that, we are opening three estates. So it’s going up, and it’s going broader,” said the CEO in a previous report. GuySuCo has since restarted the production of packaged sugar, and will be focusing heavily on this aspect of production, instead of the traditional bulk production. “GuySuCo started production of packaged sugar; we are moving away from the dump market to go into packaged sugar, and this is the reality. We get double the value per tonne when we sell packet sugar, versus what we dump on the world market,” Singh said.
Considering the substantial benefits of value-added production, the CEO believes it is a “no-brainer” situation when assessing which segments of the market to supply with Guyana’s sugar.
The vision of GuySuCo, as outlined by the company’s management, is to focus on expanding the sale of packaged sugar in CARICOM, North America and the local markets. GuySuCo’s overarching plan for 2021 is to produce 97,000 tonnes of sugar, a high percentage of which is expected to be packaged.
Minister Mustapha reiterated the Government’s position, noting, however, that it can only be realised through Public-Private Partnerships.
“We have to diversify, we cannot produce raw, brown sugar and survive… we have to produce value-added products like refined sugar, ethanol, improve on molasses, improve on the co-gen facility at Skeldon… those are the things we have to do and we have to bring down the cost of production,” said the Agriculture Minister.
His aim is to bring the industry to a break-even point, and, further, to a level of profitability through prudent investments and management.
“If all things go equal, in the next five years I am hoping we can break-even with the kind of management system I want to see.
“I put out a warning to managers that they must go into the field. You have to improve on crop husbandry to ensure that from the beginning of planting to the time of reaping there is proper cane so that tonnes cane to tonnes sugar ratio (tc/ts) would be high,” said Minister Mustapha.
This is the route the industry will take and it will be executed collectively through Public-Private Partnerships, which Minister Mustapha hopes can be present at all estates across the country, someday.