Uitvlugt Estate workers and the business community were assured on Wednesday that the estate would achieve its target of 40,000 tonnes of cane by 2020 through its improvement programme.
Speaking at the second in a series of community meetings that the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) is conducting in sugar-dependent areas, General Manager of the estate Yudhisthira Mana said that GuySuCo is investing $1.5 billion in the Uitvlugt Estate Improvement Programme (UEIP) and would be leasing almost half of its 6,000 hectares of cultivation to private farmers who would be supplying cane to the factory.
The estate is currently cultivating 3,000 hectares, while private farmers have already been planting some 750 hectares.
Approval has been given for almost 1,000 hectares of land to be leased to farmers while another 1,000 hectares are under consideration. Other farmers have expressed interest in getting on board.
Mana told the gathering made up of workers and residents, including businesspeople, at the Uitvlugt Community Centre on Wednesday, that through the UEIP, they have the ability, the commitment and the togetherness to make the 40,000 tonnes a reality.
The first meeting was held at Wales last week with the GuySuCo team comprising Mana, Industrial Relations Manager Deodat Sukhu, Senior Communications Officer Audreyanna Thomas, Industrial Relations Officer Tulsiram Sewlall and Manager of the Wales Estate Davendra Kumar.
They were also part of the Uitvlugt team and unlike the disorderly meeting at Wales, those in attendance listened attentively as the team presented its plans.
Mana also emphasized that the agriculture team of the estate is more than capable of producing the targeted amount, adding, “By 2020 you would see it realizing itself and we will all be proud…”
Saying, “Sugar is here to stay,” he added, “We have a plan, we have a great plan I must tell you. And today is the day that we will reveal it to you because we need to tell those who are of the view that sugar would not be here any longer and [the estate] would be closing after a while. There is no way that this is going to happen.”
Mana, who has been involved in sugar for 33 years, said that since he took over at the estate one and a half years ago they have been toiling together and while the process is looking quite challenging, it is achievable.
Government has scaled down to three estates under its diversification and divestment plans and Uitvlugt as well as Albion and Blairmont estates in Berbice have been selected to remain in operation.
He said it was fortunate that Uitvlugt was considered when Wales is being diversified along with the East Demerara and Rose Hall estates.
He pointed out that by the end of this year, the estate would be “closing in” on 18,000 tonnes and that to achieve the 2020 target they would need an adequate labour force.
GuySuCo has advertised 406 vacancies in the agricultural department for 298 cane harvesters, 48 planters, 15 chemical weed control hands, 12 rangers and seven harvesting support hands, six field inspection/agronomy hands, six pest control hands, five shovel men, five fertilizer hands and four cane transport operators.
In a passionate plea, he encouraged the 375 cane-cutters and cane transport operators of Wales to “come on board… I want to tell them clearly that we need them, despite the differences… We need them to help us to partner and bring home 40,000 tonnes of sugar. We need them more than ever. We need our workforce here to work better.”
He added: “They have their responsibilities to their families and their families need a good life. We at the Uitvlugt Estate [are] giving that opportunity at this point in time….”
The cane-cutters and cane transport operators have refused to accept the offer to work at Uitvlugt. They are demanding severance payments, which they insist they are entitled to, based on the 10-mile radius.
The workers had said that because of the distance, they would not be able to achieve their target at Uitvlugt. But GuySuCo said that the 51 Wales employees who work at Uitvlugt are earning an average of $4,200 per day, which is far greater than their expected $2,600.
Of the Wales Estate employees, 389 were severed, while 301 were kept at Wales.
Mana said the Uitvlugt factory has the capacity to crush 105 tonnes of cane per hour. Over the past few crops the factory was working beyond its true potential with about 85 to 90 tonnes of cane per hour.
He said too that the mechanical down time was limited and instead of 130 grinding hours weekly, it was just achieving about 80 to 85. They would continue to look at the weak areas, he said, noting that the number one line turbine and the generator sets in the powerhouse are currently being refurbished.
Industrial Relations Manager Deodat Sukhu said that achieving 40,000 tonnes of sugar would have to have an input from everyone, including the cane supplier.
In any estate, a cropping period must be around 33 to 35 weeks and there must be the output from the field that drives that factory beyond the 130 hours per week. Over the years, the estate would load cane for two days to crush one day.
Thomas told the gathering that they are now focusing on a new GuySuCo, which involves a diversification component and a sugar component.
The diversification aspect includes aquaculture with the rearing of tilapia and dairy farming with the setting up of two milking farms at the Wales Estate.
The new GuySuCo would see massive training programmes for employees so that they can embark on alternative livelihood ventures.
With regard to the future of drainage and irrigation, once GuySuCo goes out of operation in some locations, she said, the National Drainage and Irrigation Authority through the Ministry of Agriculture would assume those roles and responsibilities.
Because many communities depend on GuySuCo from an economic standpoint and are vulnerable and susceptible to its challenges, a Sustainable Community Programme has been developed. This would assist GuySuCo, in a very systematic way, to examine the fiscal and economic health of the communities and build more resilience and sustainability.
Thomas also said that they are developing a Friends of GuySuCo Voluntary Network and urged members of the community to register to be part of the sustainability of the corporation.
Kumar who highlighted aspects of the diversification plans for Wales, said that by September the first crop of 200 acres of seed paddy would be harvested.