Small cane farmers to tap $10M revolving fund

-Agri Minister slams GuySuCo over Skeldon factory

Small-scale, private sugar cane farmers are expected to boost their cultivation following the launch of a $10M revolving fund yesterday at Red House in Kingston.

The fund, which has been in the making for sometime, was initially set up with $5M accumulated over time by the National Cane Farmers Committee (NCFC), the body which represents the private farmers.

Yesterday the Agriculture Ministry  injected an additional $5M into the fund  and according to Cecil Seepersaud of the NCFC, the fund was set up with much persistence on the part of the members of the committee to  have it  “get if off the ground”. He said that the fund does not carry an interest rate, adding that it’s one in which the farmer is expected to invest towards the advancement of his/her respective farm operations.

Seepersaud stressed to the gathering of private cane farmers that the fund targets small farmers, adding that when he became a member of the NCFC, the idea was developed and the relevant documentation was in place to develop the fund.

He said that monies in the fund are considered “capital expenditure money which can be used, by way of a particular methodology, where the value of the fund could be sustainable”. He said that the fund would see no- interest loans being made available to the small cane farmers.

Seepersaud explained that what is being proposed in the crafting of the fund is a $200,000 ceiling for loans to be disbursed to the small cane farmers. He said that “we also want a commitment of the borrower, the idea is whatever activity it is, the fund will put you at 80% and the person borrowing will put the additional 20%”. He said that the repayment will not necessarily be in cash but also in the form of labour on the part of the private farmer.

CEO of the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) Paul Bhim  said that the corporation welcomes the initiative created by the NCFC  and he expressed hope that the venture will increase sugar production. He said that at the moment  the private cane farmers have provided 12.3% of canes utilised by GuySuco   and that figure translates into 11.5% of the sugar.

Agriculture Minister Robert Persaud told the gathering that the authorities are placing the spotlight on the contributions of private cane farmers and their successes in the sugar industry during Agriculture Month, celebrated this month.

He expressed the belief that “it’s a viable enterprise …in fact you are guaranteed a buyer and to an extent a price”, adding that there was no other commodity in the various sectors of the economy where this existed.

Persaud said that the NCFC will have to work to ensure that the support provided by the government grows. Good performance will see the support given being enhanced. He said that the assistance provided to the industry will carry over into 2012 and he noted that “injection and support at this time is very necessary”.

Skeldon factory

Meantime, the state of the problematic Skeldon Sugar factory drew harsh criticism from Persaud who bluntly told the gathering that GuySuCo needed to “stop monkeying around with the damn factory” and he expressed hope that it  will come up with a firm solution to improve the operations of  the US$200M facility.

Persaud said that several issues hampering the operation of the factory were identified and according to him, every report he receives before the crop leaves him feeling “enthused”. However, “three weeks after the crop I am left feeling depressed”, Persaud told the gathering.

He had told the gathering earlier that the facility required the relevant expertise to fix issues associated with its under performance. He said that there is a plan to have all the relevant problems fixed but he noted that most persons will be “disappointed” and use words such as “dissatisfied” where the performance of the factory to date is concerned. He noted however, that the authorities at GuySuCo are working to identify and fix the problems at the factory. Persaud said that importantly there is need to better “manage and improve” the performance of the industry.

Bhim noted earlier that there continued to be concerns about the performance of the Skeldon factory, noting that ratio of tonnes of cane per tonne of sugar (TC/TS) was recently 12.4 and “this morning the figure rose to 21”.

He said that there are a few experts in the field who are in touch with GuySuCo, noting that Tate and Lyle, a prominent international customer of the corporation based in Europe, is facilitating a visit to the factory of experts to  determine why the factory “was  losing so much sugar”. He said that he expects the experts to carry out works on the punt dumper at the factory, noting that it was one of the problems identified at the factory.

Persaud stated in August at a press conference that GuySuCo does not have the competence to run the troubled factory and he urged the corporation to speed up consideration of proposals by Indian and Chinese companies to run it. His statement sparked controversy as the public was unaware that there had been a process to invite bids for the management of the Skeldon factory.

However, GuySuco noted last month that several proposals are before the board of the corporation to manage the troubled Skeldon sugar factory.  The factory was built by China National Technology Import and Export Corp (CNTIC).

Work on the factory began in 2005 and it was expected that the project would have been completed by October 2007. The commissioning date was pushed back several times until the end of 2008. CNTIC was engaged in a turn-key contract which would have seen GuySuCo taking charge of its running.