Within recent days there has been quite a bit of media publicity through GuySuCo’s Community Outreach Programme on the Uitvlugt Estate Improvement Programme (UEIP). If this much-touted programme is to be successful it augurs well for the future of this estate, its workers and surrounding communities.
Uitvlugt Estate has been in a rapid downward spiral since 2004, and to quote the Estate Manager, Yudhisthira Mana in a section of the media, the estate is expected to produce “some 18,000 tonnes sugar by the end of 2017”. The Estate Manager should have added that this relatively low production is with input from private cane farmers. The average tonnes of sugar produced by this estate in the period 1992 to 2004 was 27,800, without any input from private cane farmers, and the average cost of production was just under 18 US cents per pound. In the Guyana Times in yesterday’s edition the Minister of Agriculture stated that the estate’s current cost of production is 26 US cents per pound.
The cane yield for the just-concluded 1st crop this year is just above 40 tonnes cane per hectare (TCH). The cane yield in the period 1992 to 2004 was 66 TCH. The problem, therefore, from then to now is low production, low yield and high cost; as such it is considered in the circumstances prudent and appropriate for the estate to develop a programme to tackle the problem, and that is to take the annual sugar production to 40,000 tonnes by 2020.
Using the data publicized by the Estate Manager, on careful analysis, the UEIP appears to be highly improbable and quite ambitious to say the least, unless it is being done with propaganda as its aim. The estate aims to produce 40,000 tonnes sugar by 2020; that would require 520,000 tonnes cane from 6005.9 hectares (ha). The cane yield, therefore, will have to be 86.5 TCH. At the end of 2017, the estate will produce 18,000 tonnes sugar; as such all agricultural and factory inputs will have to put in place between 2018 and 2019. One cannot have any input in 2020 because this is the year that the 40,000 tonnes is expected. Canes for sugar production in 2020 will have to be nurtured and ready in 2019. Will the UEIP be able to increase cane yield from its current 40 to 86.5 TCH in 2 years, an increase of 116%? This is highly improbable.
Secondly, with the existing labour shortage on the estate, and the refusal of the Wales harvesters to accept commuting to Uitvlugt, what contingency plan does the estate have to provide for this acute shortage ‒ for example, mechanization? It appears from the Estate Manager’s presentation, the 40,000 tonnes is contingent on the Wales workers moving to Uitvlugt and the estate being able to fill the vacancies that it has claimed to have advertised for 406 workers including 298 harvesters. Those from Wales make up 375. It means, therefore, that the estate from its recruitment drive and Wales depends on 673 harvesters being available. This is a huge amount by any standard in GuySuCo. The sugar company by not offering a pay increase for the past 2 years, the actual and projected estate closures, its publicity on clamping down on “customs and practices”, and its refusal to award the normal annual incentives for the past 2 years will certainly not be helpful in its recruitment drive. The odds are just against it.
Thirdly, the Estate Manager reported that presently cane farmers already have 750 ha in cane cultivation, “approval has been given for almost 1,000 hectares to be leased” to them “while another 1,000 hectares are under consideration”. The manager is optimistic on this endeavour, since “other farmers have their expressed interest on getting on board”. Will they “get on board” given the current and projected low price of sugar on the world market, which is currently 14 US cents per pound? Time will test this “expressed interest”. Since time is of utmost importance, and without prejudicing the low price, will the farmers with “expressed interest” have their 2,000 ha lands tilled with canes ready by end of 2019 for harvesting in 2020? If they do not then the UEIP, compounded with the anticipated cane yield, will be in clear jeopardy.
Lastly, the Estate Manager lamented that instead of the factory processing canes 130 hours per week, it is now doing about 80-85 hours; almost 60% of the opportunity time. How-ever, it’s quite befuddling that though the factory has the capacity to process 105 tonnes cane per hour, “over the past few crops the factory was working beyond its true potential with about 85 to 90 tonnes cane per hour”. It’s the other way round; it was working below its potential. I trust this was an error on the part of the manager. The question is, on the UEIP, will the factory be ready to process canes continuously for 130 hours per week with 105 tonnes cane per hour in 2020? It hasn’t done so for the past 13 years.
Editor, I just hope that the estate could deliver on these projections by 2020 in the interest of its own survival and viability, for if it does not then these current presentations are purely propaganda efforts. The signs of improvements in the business of sugar can be tangibly recognised each year. One cannot expect to wake up in 2020 and see 40,000 tonnes sugar produced at Uitvlugt from 18,000 in 2017. More than gradual improvements must be seen in 2018 and 2019 before it climaxes in 2020. I wish the estate well.