Dec 11, 2013 News
Some 27 percent of the total area under cane lands by the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) has been converted to accommodate mechanical harvesting.
According to Raymond Sangster, General Manager of GuySuCo’s Agriculture Services, these lands – over 48,000 acres – do not include those under cultivation by private cane farmers.
Sangster was over the weekend defending criticisms by former Member of Parliament, Anthony Vieira, concerning GuySuCo’s land conversion exercise to accommodate mechanical harvesting.
According to the GuySuCo official in a letter to the editor, the conversion programme is concentrated on estates that are more adversely affected by the shortage of labour – Skeldon in East Berbice and LBI and Enmore, on the East Coast of Demerara.
Sangster said that the approach to mechanization in the industry is not to replace labour with machines.
“As labour availability declines, machines will be introduced. The conversion process is indeed very time consuming and also expensive and cannot be done overnight.”
The official made it clear that GuySuCo cannot wait to begin the process until labour becomes unavailable. “Rehabilitating (re-tilling) a converted hectare costs 65% of the amount compared to re-tilling a traditional hectare.”
At Skeldon, 56% of the area under cultivation is configured for mechanical harvesting; 63% at LBI and 80% at Enmore. With Uitvlugt now showing a steep decline in labour, efforts are being made to convert some of the lands on that estate for mechanization.
Sangster denied that the conversion of cane lands to accommodate mechanical harvesting has been a major contributory factor to the reduction of yields across the industry.
“Enmore which has 80% of its areas converted is experiencing higher yields than some locations which have little or no conversion. Also yields in the converted areas are comparable to those in the traditional areas.”
Sangster blamed weather as a major factor responsible for reduced yields over the last five years. “Guyana as a sugar producing nation is not singular in this respect. Decline/low yields are a major challenge to many sugar-producing countries including Brazil and Australia.”
The official dismissed calls by Vieira that GuySuCo should cease its land conversion and mechanization programme and go back to manual labour.
At Enmore, for instance, to grind for 24 hours in any one day, the factory requires 2,520 tonnes of canes. While an average cane harvester will cut and load approximately 2.4 tonnes per day, Sangster said that to supply canes to Enmore to have continuous grinding, it will require 1,050 harvesters to work on a daily basis.
“Currently Enmore and LBI together are having an average daily total turnout of 500 cane harvesters. Such a turnout could only supply canes for 12 hours of grinding. At Skeldon, with the potential grinding rate of 300 tonnes of cane per hour, the estate will require 3,000 cane harvesters to supply the factory for 24 hours. The current daily turnout of harvesters at Skeldon is averaging 510 which is equivalent to 4 hours of grinding per day.”
The official insisted that the current fleet of machines that GuySuCo has is quite adequate to supply the two factories –Skeldon and Enmore- with canes.
GuySuCo is battling a run of poor production in recent years, with 2013 set to fall below 200,000 tonnes of sugar…its lowest in 20 years.
The corporation has been blaming weather and low workers’ turnout for its poor showing.
The Opposition has been demanding more accountability for an industry which at one time was the biggest foreign currency earner. It has now fallen behind gold and rice.
Government has been experimenting with overseas help from Europe and now India to pull the industry back from the rut it has found itself in.
Its US$200M flagship project at Skeldon has failed to live up to expectations, with one technical issue after another.
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