I have noticed what I believe, were misleading comments and insinuations made by Mr Gobin Harbhajan, in his letter which appeared in the November 18, 2016 Stabroek News (‘It was the PPP which ruined the sugar industry…’). Mr Harbhajan submitted that it was the PPP which ruined the sugar industry and betrayed the workers. It is interesting to note that Mr Harbhajan’s statements coincided somewhat with those in a previous letter from Mr Abel Seetaram, who is a member of the governing party.
While holding no brief for Messrs Jagdeo and Ramotar, gentlemen who are most capable of providing their own responses, the author ‒ if indeed Mr Harbhajan is the author ‒ ought to be fully aware of the history and travails of the sugar industry over its long existence. It is apt to note, as President Granger recalled in the November 8, Kaieteur News, the sugar industry is the “single oldest continuous industry in Guyana”. During its long life it has experienced a fair share of difficulties, but also managed successfully to overcome them. Indeed, the private owners and past governments in the post-nationalization period have ensured, in view of sugar’s recognised importance, that the industry was able to continue its productive operations.
In the somewhat “short” period since nationalization we have seen challenges arising in the industry as well as its resilience to recover. In the late 1980s production fell dramatically and averaged about 157,000 tonnes in the 1988-1990 period. In 1990, production fell miserably to 129,920 tonnes. In that era, we saw much experimentation and financial wastage in terms of non-sugar diversification; an exodus of workers from the industry; a lack of key and necessary inputs, among other things. It was felt then, by some, that the industry could not be saved, but their alarm was unnecessary. As we later saw with a new and capable management and a motivated workforce, the industry emerged from its trough and between 2002-2004 production reached a high average of about 320,000 tonnes.
Now, we are faced with similar circumstances once more. Production in the 2013-2015 period is somewhat better averaging about 211,000 tonnes. Last year we saw production reaching a high of about 231,000 tonnes, undoubtedly due to careful planning and attention to detail in the 2014-15 period. But what is disconcerting, rather than going forward, as was widely expected, we seem to be going in the other direction. GuySuCo is now aiming to produce 194,000 tonnes down from the 242,000 tonnes which was incorporated in the 2016 National Budget. While it is hoped that the target is realized and even surpassed, it brings into question the quality and the efficacy of the industry’s management. An important question needs to be asked as to whether the intent is deliberate in order to engender a certain outcome.
The industry has great opportunities to rebound. Diversification is now a must, but not aquaculture, orchard fruits, cattle rearing and rice cultivation as being touted. Rather the industrialization of sugar in the form of expanding electricity production, and other such ventures mentioned before by others. There are feasible opportunities for the industry to harness its potential and to overcome its present challenges and ensure a viable future. It needs the will and a caring government committed to our country’s sustainable development.