It is to be regretted that GuySuCo did not benefit directly from the EU’s ‘mitigating’ funding

Dear Editor,

Aspects of the pronouncement of the EU Delegation’s Ambassador, as reported in Stabroek News of June 21, invite careful examination, certainly by those who know more of the Guyana sugar industry than any senior official of the current administration, and who always wondered how the latter dealt with earlier EU disbursements.

We now have confirmation “that the previous €91.5 million provided since the multi-annual programme commenced was spent on education and social cohesion.” Surprised, several must also wonder whether and how the expenditure referred to can be verified. (Stabroek News too can help in researching whether or not the earlier disbursements were similarly publicised.)

Perhaps, more importantly, however, sugar workers, stakeholders and the public at large would be forgiven for enquiring of the specific projects of ‘education’ and ‘social cohesion’ in which four times of the amount of this 2013 instalment was invested.

But this is what the President of Guyana Agricultural Workers Union was quoted as saying in the Guyana Times dated February 9, 2012:

“In an exclusive interview with this paper last week, Chand explained that some years ago when the EU slashed the price of Guyana’s 189,000-tonne sugar quota by 36 per cent, there was an offer of compensation to some sugar producing countries. This compensation, he believes, should fully be handed over to GuySuCo since the company is in dire need for funds to execute crucial capital works.

‘“After the slash the EU agreed to make compensation to members of the African Caribbean Pacific Sugar Producing Countries (ACP), where it is 18 countries and Guyana being one. They became obligated and each country had to put up an action plan, so we put up our action plan, that is Guyana, and there are a number of projects in this action plan for example the packaging plant and we put a number of projects in the action plan, that is GuySuCo.

“‘So we are saying that all of the money coming from the EU to Guyana government out of the action plan ought to go to sugar,’ said Chand. He noted that the money comes directly to the government and goes into the Consolidated Fund, but it is the government’s responsibility to release this money and it should be given to GuySuCo.”

GuySuCo’s various plans, beginning with the first Strategic Plan, then the Turnaround Plan, and Strategic Blueprint all committed to the rehabilitation of a declining sugar industry.

The following are not totally irrelevant highlights extracted from media reports and GuySuCo statements, in 2010:

* Current production of packaged sugar is 8,000 tonnes. New (packaging) plant is capable of producing 30,000 tonnes in 2011 at the rate 30 tonnes per hour. Production will expand in later years to 80,000 tonnes.

* Price for packaged sugar projected at 30-35% higher than comparable bulk sugar

* Current markets for bulk sugar assured

* There is cane in the ground particularly at Skeldon, where full factory operations will depend on effective repair of one or two boilers.

* One reason cane is in the ground is that worker attendance is declared at 45%, compared with 52% in 2010, and 60+% in 2009.

Certainly the issue of mechanisation would have raised discussion at least in year 2010. By 2013 therefore there is a proportion of
mechanised field activity at Skeldon, for example. What the receipt of the latest EU tranche implies is the development of a comprehensive plan for the prerequsite conversion of layouts to facilitate mechanised harvesting activity for one.

In this connection the following extract from a consultancy study commissioned by Booker Tate in 2002, should be of interest:

“Gains in cane quality could be made more difficult with the increased use of machinery for the harvesting and transport operations. Experience from other sugar industries indicates that a switch from hand loading to the mechanical loading of sugarcane often increases the level of extraneous matter in the delivered cane supply. Furthermore, a switch from hand harvesting to mechanical harvesting often has the same outcome. Normally, over time, industries improve their methods of machinery operation to improve the quality of cane.”

It is assumed that enough experience has been gained to evaluate the current operational costs, so as to develop strategies and tactics to justify the projected investment. Obviously account will be taken of respective estates’ weather patterns, opportunity days, adaptability of soil conditions; not to mention the careful selection of varieties of cane most conducive to the highest possible yields on particular locations, supplemented by the application of the most suitable and cost-effective agri-technology. (One confusion, which reportedly is still to be solved, is the capacity of the Skeldon Factory’s defective diffuser to absorb optimal cane supply.)

The issue of the selection and training of the managerial and technical skills required for this transformational agricultural practice (that was always intended to include cane farmers, particularly at Skeldon) must be addressed.

Not unrelated to mechanisation was the following pronouncement, extracted from Stabroek News, April 3, 2012:

“Major rehabilitation works including the redesigning and re-engineering of several aspects of the troubled multi-million dollar Skeldon Sugar Factory are being planned and the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) anticipates a significant increase in production at the factory next year.

“According to a statement from Guysuco yesterday, the entity is working with reputable international engineering experts and technical professionals in the area of diffusion technology as well as agricultural specialists and has identified the major factors that are preventing the estate from reaching its full potential and design capacity. In September last year, the corporation had noted that a South African firm was assisting the entity in making the factory fully operable.

“According to GuySuCo, the projects identified at the factory include: re-engineering the bagasse feed system, redesigning the cane conveyors, drilling of a new well, the replacement of a 5MW alternator as well as the modification of the pump dumpers.

“The corporation will also build a section of an all-weather road as well as upgrade the drainage and water management system at the estate. Additional lands will also be converted for mechanised harvesting.”

In the light of all the above, it hardly seems reasonable, at least to GuySuCo, to describe “the previous years” as “different.” Certainly the President of GAWU has reason to “regret those times.” Many of us would empathise with him.

This is not, however, to exclude appreciation of the EU’s legitimate approach of “mitigating the consequences of the end of the preferential treatment of the ACP countries in the European Market.”

The substantive ‘regret’ is that GuySuCo did not benefit directly from the ‘mitigating’ funding.

The challenge then is clearly not one of mere “sustainability,” but rather more of comprehensive rehabilitation.

Who will monitor and evaluate the ‘conversion’ as must be technically planned, managed, inclusive of effective productivity indicators across the various locations?

GuySuCo can hardly boast of any serious agricultural research capacity, particularly since the vacancy created by the peremptory demittal from the office of its last director.

Yours faithfully,
EB John

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