The plight of sugar workers in Guyana could have been avoided. For centuries, our nation has been a top producer of sugar. We have enjoyed great profits from the direct sale of the commodity. However, we have not fully come to the realisation that there are many alternatives.
Globally, the customer has been influenced by strong marketing, health concerns, and the close availability of such alternatives. In our country, we simply use less sugar. In those countries with large markets, customers have the option to choose based on personal preferences – including the choice of honey at local coffee shops. The changes in desire over time, are reflective of the competitive forces that exist in the global sugar industry. The threat of substitutes is a force that has caused a ripple effect on our sugar production, sales, profitability, and the livelihood of sugar workers.
Guyana’s sugar workers have been committed, strong, resilient, and very hard working. It is therefore important that the industry leaders and government consider our ancestral and current workers’ contribution to the industry upon which our country was developed. A comparative analysis of sugar and oil and gas commodities would show interesting variations, both historically and in a forecast. While there are higher demands for oil and gas and the various petroleum products, sugar still has a place in our local and the global economy. It would take great experience, leadership, and strategic decision-making abilities to harness the easily achievable value conversion of sugarcane byproducts. These have the ability to provide valuable support for the industry and the thousands of workers who depend on it.
Going forward, the country should invest in research and development of new value propositions to assist the industry. Their focus should be on how to take the large quantities of cane tops, bagasse, filter mud, and molasses, and convert them into revenue generating products. These products can be put into value chain activities to support local and international markets. There are over 150 end uses for sugarcane byproducts. About 38 of them, under strong consideration, have great economic prospects. This ranges from the use of bagasse to produce paper and boards, to the use of molasses to produce alcohol, acetic and citric acid, and yeast.
In the long term, there is great importance in pursuing the uses of sugarcane byproducts. The current challenges may be the spark that leads to new innovations. This would greatly contribute to social stability, improved economic conditions, and maintain the pride of sugar workers across the nation. The sugar workers are the most committed and persistent group in any national industry. This is a very impressive quality. Therefore, our country owes them the time and effort to find new knowledge and provide them with all the resources to ensure a sustainable sugar industry.