As the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) proceeds with the closure of estates around the country as part of the plan to scale down its operations, the company has developed a sustainable development programme to ease the impact on affected sugar-dependent communities and an alternative livelihood initiative for workers who will be retrenched.
According to a report prepared for the company’s board on the two interventions, it became apparent from its economic and social challenges that sugar-dependent communities are vulnerable and susceptible to the pressures that are faced in the industry.
“This challenge in the sugar industry has created an opportunity for implementing a programme that is structured and in a systematic way, to engage these sugar-dependent communities mentioned, to transition from depending primarily on sugar, to becoming more economically, socially and environmentally resilient,” the report, which has not been released but was seen by Stabroek News, says.
It is unclear when these interventions will be implemented but they are expected to cushion the impact on the communities and families that will be affected from the imminent retrenching of some 2,500 workers.
Through its Sustainable and Resilient Communities Programme, the company is seeking to ensure the economic, social and environmental “resilience” of the affected communities.
Towards this end, a study was carried out within the communities within the vicinity of the Wales, East Demerara and Rose Hall estates to determine economic opportunities already available in the communities; the preferred and feasible areas of growth outside of sugar; what skills and expertise residents possessed; and the constraints to economic growth within the communities, among other things.
As part of the study, 90 persons were interviewed from the communities. It was found that most persons had attained secondary and primary education but exposure to university or higher level education was very minimal.
In terms of the current economic opportunities, the study found that the utilities, services, public sector, construction and agro-industries prevailed as the present economic areas in the community, while mining and quarrying, energy, manufacturing, fishing and communications were at the bottom.
However, the study indicated that the residents were more inclined for development in the construction, agro-industries, forestry, artisanal, and public sector areas, while utilities, communications, manufacturing, energy and mining and quarrying received the lowest interest.
Against this background, the study recommended that a committee to lead, coordinate and monitor the transitioning of the sugar-dependent communities and their environs be established to focus on developing the preferred areas of growth.
It also proposed the establishment of a Sustainable Communities/ Sugar-Dependent Commun-ities Fund, which can be managed by the Ministry of Business, Small Business Bureau, to enable the startup of businesses, training and technical support. It was noted that the fund could assist as an economic stimulus and facilitate a Building and Maintenance Initiative in the communities.
Also proposed was the allocation of $50 million for residents who are in need of support for repair or rehabilitation of their properties for economic expansion and a further $1 million to $1.5 million for grants or small loans for some 45 applicants from the three communities.
The study also suggested that there be the establishment of partnerships with the relevant international, regional and national agencies to support the transitioning of the communities and to develop a social resilience programme to foster capacity building of residents, groups and organisations within the communities so that they will be able to adapt to the rapid changes that will come about from the reorganisation of the sugar company.
Equipping workers for transition
Meanwhile, the proposed Alternative Livelihood Initiative is set to focus on employees that will be made redundant from the reorganising to equip them to function in other areas. It is proposed that the sugar company embarks on the training of employees in areas that are currently being contracted out and areas with low labour turnout across the industry, such as harvesting; and training of employees to work in new operational areas across the industry in places such as drainage and irrigation and field workshop. The leasing of lands to employees to become independent farmers in the diversification is also suggested.
Meetings were held in September and October with over 500 employees, including 387 from the East Demerara Estate and 116 from the Wales Estate, where 126 employees were identified as being interested in the skills training, such as in sewing, catering, cosmetology, masonry, electronics, machinery, carpentry, plumbing, farming, computer repairs, massage therapy, management, proposal writing, brush cutting and excavation.
It was noted that there are currently prospects for sewing uniforms, mechanical tillage, labour transport, excavation/revetment works, maintenance of sluices/bridges, road repairs, re-cleaning of navigation and drainage systems, planting groups, harvesting groups, maintenance and repairs of dams and other infrastructure and slashing.
Despite the plans, some residents of Enmore say they expect a drastic fall in the local economy of the community when the workers are laid off.
“It is going to have a major effect that will take some time to fix. Once those 250 workers that they plan on letting go of at the East Dem Estate are gone by the end of the year, within two weeks businesses are going to notice a major slow down. It’s not just about the workers, you have to think about the 250 families by extension that are going to be affected. That’s less money being used around the community, which means less business for the businesses around the community and that only spells disaster,” one businessman explained.
The man further stated that the drastic slowdown in business is going to have a negative impact on the community that will not be fixed as fast as it is damaged.
Recently, retrenched workers from Wales and their families indicated at a Guyana Agricultural and General Workers’ Union (GAWU) news conference that the closure of the estate had caused several negative ripple effects through the community, including an increase in criminal activities.