GuySuCo should give retrenched sugar workers land

Dear Editor,

HR Director, EB John released a picture of top GuySuCo officials visiting Brazil in the 1980s to conduct a study on the feasibility of ethanol production. (SN, July 18). Why is this study being kept secret? It should be released now.

A demonstration ethanol plant (cost US$485,000, imported from Brazil) had been set up at Albion. Where is the report on this?  How can the public evaluate the results of the study and justify the expenditure?

Folks like me want to know why GuySuCo could not successfully diversify into the many other products of sugarcane as well as the byproducts of sugar. GuySuCo has a moral and professional responsibility to provide answers.

The sugarcane industry, directly employing 16,000 workers, is being phased out. And there are no alternative means of livelihood for these workers. An underdeveloped economy with a 2.6 per cent GDP growth rate is so small, it is almost the same thing as zero growth. Such an economy will not generate new jobs for these workers. And there is not much of a manufacturing or service sector to speak about.

What do retrenched workers do to survive in Guyana? If the worker has some savings he will use those savings to purchase a car and run a hire-car service; or he will set-up a roadside stall to sell mauby and cakes; or he will purchase vegetables and fruits in the villages and re-sell at a small profit in Stabroek and Bourda markets. The problem today with a failing economy is that these survival ‘hustles’ are already saturated. Too many folks are doing the same thing: the market mechanism (demand and supply) only reduces further the already small margins of profit causing in some cases more hardship.

The government urgently needs to come to the aid of all these retrenched workers. That is a major function of modern democratic governments, is it not?

Our history provides some answers. After indentureship ended 1917-1920, the bond-free workers were given parcels of land in lieu of passage back to India. These workers made a successful transition into self-employment and farming (rice, cash crops, cattle). My ancestors, ‘indentured labourers’, landed in British Guiana in 1873 (Pandora 1873), became bond-free ten years later, were given all of two acres of land, and with their bare two pairs of hands and a heifer made a successful transition to self-employment and survival. Tens of thousands of such indentureds served out their bond, and then made a successful transition to self-employment. The same can be done today.

I urge the Government of Guyana today to give the 16,000 retrenched workers parcels of land, the same land they have been cultivating for GuySuCo, to help them make a living. Help them with drainage and irrigation. And today’s sugar-workers, just like the bond-free workers from a century ago, will again make a successful transition to self-employment and survival.

Yours faithfully,

Mike Persaud

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