The allure of sugar
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THE former PNC-led Coalition Government, despite pre-elections promises, began dismantling the sugar industry and its infrastructure almost immediately after attaining office. This set in train an agonising deceleration of the quality of life for former employees and the families of those who were directly employed on the various estates, as well as those who indirectly depended on the estate’s wage-earners for their financial wherewithal such as market vendors, shopkeepers and even the little old lady with her sugar cake and mauby stand.

Subsequent investigations proved that while derelict in the provision of empowering/enriching mechanisms to grassroots constituents, the Coalition Government was selling out/giving away, piecemeal, State lands and assets to friends and financiers.
Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo and other ministers in the Coalition Cabinet had held the belief that sugar was financially hopeless and insisted that the state-owned Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) could not restore the viability of the industry, rendering as necessary the initial downsizing of the sector.
Conversely, a news feature in this newspaper written by  Navendra Seoraj on December 17, 2020, headlined “Dubai sees ‘sweetness’ in Guyana’s sugar,” relayed the information that Dubai had sent a technical team to analyse estates, which signals a strong interest to invest in sugar, which is a major investment opportunity as the current government is struggling valiantly to ensure that sugar production once again picks up steam and realise the dreams and hopes of future generations of Guyanese.

During colonial times factories were built in this country to process the sugar, from which many other industries evolved.  However, in the approximate 400 years of sugar production, this country had been confined to producing raw sugar, which has considerably constrained Guyana’s sugar earnings.
The PPP/C administrations had always envisaged an independent Guyana as exploring diversification options for the sugar industry, but this did not fructify until the newly installed PPP/C Government began planning, since 1992, to make the industry a complex, instead of merely a producer of raw sugar so that the earnings and benefits of sugar workers could increase in tandem with the increased market-share and profitability of value-added sugar products.

The news and trends in the global marketplace had prepared the Jagdeo-led Government of earlier years to lose the European preferential market, although they did not anticipate that it would happen so quickly, which sent the sector reeling from the shockwaves.  However, the then government had already been strategising on ways to modernise the industry, which culminated in, among other initiatives, the new factory at Skeldon and the state-of-the-art packaging facility at Enmore.
Itemising accrual benefits that would redound to the nation from the PPP/C’s turnaround plan for sugar, one needs to be cognisant of electricity being generated at the Skeldon factory with anticipated projects including other specialities, such as refined sugar. There was also the hope and expectation that other factories will also be equipped to generate electricity, and to produce ethanol and paper to enhance income-generation and consequently boost the quality of life of sugar workers.

In the various sugar-producing communities the cries of the sugar workers and their families who have lost jobs and their sustainable lifestyles because of sugar estate closures are heart-rending; and the displaced workers include thousands of coalition supporters who are also suffering because of sugar estate closures are now seeing a future bright with the re-opening of the estates.

According to Seoraj’s report, Dubai’s 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.

Minister of Agriculture Zulfikar Mustapha told the Guyana Chronicle, inter alia, that he highlighted the opportunities in agriculture “… so another team came back recently to look at sugar… they were impressed with the sugar industry in Guyana.” Seoraj’s article informed readers that Dubai 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. The minister declared that his aim is to bring the industry to a break-even point, and, subsequently, to a level of profitability through prudent investments and management.

Then Opposition Leader, current Vice-President Dr Bharrat Jagdeo, at a meeting in Enmore in January 2020, said that there are parents in areas such as Wales and Canje who are struggling, not only to provide food for their children, but also to send them to school. He noted that because of their financial troubles, many children are forced to drop out of school. He promised, “The first act (after PPP/C returns to government) is to create back jobs. Put people back to work… by reopening the sugar estates right across the country… We have to do that to put those sugar workers, especially in Berbice.”
Promises made, promises being delivered.

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