Sugar industry turnaround ‘far from reality’

– Chand calls for probe of GuySuCo

The projected turnaround of the sugar industry is “far from reality” and there should be an investigation, given the dismal performance of the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) over the past years, President of the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) Komal Chand has said.

“It is a matter that needs urgent attention even before now,” the union head told Stabroek News. Over the past years, GuySuCo has failed to meet production targets.

Komal Chand
Komal Chand

According to preliminary figures obtained by Stabroek News, sugar production for last year was 218,053 tonnes falling short of the revised target of 231,072 tonnes. Last year, the corporation initially set a sugar production target of 265,000 tonnes, but later revised this downward to 236,000 tonnes.

In 2011, the industry managed 237,000 tonnes of sugar, which was below the 282,000 tonnes revised target set mid-2011. The initial target for 2011 was 300,000 tonnes. In 2010, GuySuCo had set the target at 264,000 tonnes but fell short of that target too at 233,000 tonnes. In 2009, the corporation had set its target at 250,000 tonnes and also fell short of the target, producing 226,000 tonnes.

Given the performance of the corporation, Chand said: “We don’t disagree with having the industry coming under some kind of examination and review because the production, year after year, is declining.” The union leader said it was a clear case of the corporation being unable to produce sugar, even as he pointed out, among other things, that land is available for cultivation. “Something ought to be done,” he said adding that the level of production is having a “disastrous” effect on the economy and the people.

Chand said that all the past projections, all the expectations were that the industry was turning around but this has “turned out to be far from reality”, and this should be examined now as it is better to be late than never.

Total production for each of the last four years fell far short of the 300,000 to 350,000-tonnes, which GuySuCo’s recovery blueprint had been projecting, moving up to 450,000 tonnes per annum. The blueprint was presented in April 2009. The poor performance of the flagship Skeldon estate has also been cited as one of the major problems in the industry.

Last year, the Skeldon factory failed to meet its production target despite the optimism of Minister of Agriculture, Dr Leslie Ramsammy.

According to figures obtained by Stabroek News, last year’s target for the Skeldon factory was set at 34,705 tonnes, but only 33,307 tonnes of sugar were produced. Sugar production at the factory was 29,410 tonnes in 2011 and 33,250 tonnes in 2010. For the other sugar factories, only Albion exceeded its production last year producing 54,022 tonnes of sugar against a target of 53,856 tonnes of sugar.

The South African firm Bosch Engineering was scheduled to begin remedial work on the Skeldon factory this month. It is not clear whether any of the South Africans have arrived in the country as yet but the spares needed for the rehabilitation works are in Guyana.

GAWU had previously called for GuySuCo to be restructured and said its planting methods have to be addressed. It had added that the unavailability of canes needed to be tackled. Chand, in 2011, also called for experts to be brought into the sugar corporation to save the industry.

In his column Guyana and the Wider World in the Sunday Stabroek, economist Dr Clive Thomas has said that over the past decade the trend has been for less sugar to be produced annually, while the cost of production continually rises. “GuySuCo’s continued production of less sugar annually at a higher unit price has depended on it being able to mobilize bailout funding from the state and the international community. The latter has come mainly as financial support under the European Union’s (EU) Sugar Accompanying Measures, designed to compensate for its unilateral denunciation of the Sugar Protocol (SP),” he wrote last month.

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