– factory was producing three times what it was selling for
There is deep worry by private cane farmers on the West Bank of Demerara over the announced closure of Wales estate later this year. With scores of farmers supplying cane to the estate for decades now, farmers this week
complained that the decision to move the cane to Uitvlugt, located over 15 miles away on the West Coast, will drive costs up and cause logistical delays.
Already, the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) has asked farmers to take a lower price for their canes – from an average of $100,000 per ton of sugar to now about $60,000.
“We are facing a serious problem with this proposal. We are being asked to take the canes using our trailers over internal dams behind Canals Numbers One and Two. We have to stand the cost. We have already been told that because of lower world prices for sugar we will be paid less. How will we survive?” asked one Belle Vue farmer. He has seven workers and a driver when the crop is being harvested. Two of the workers are full-time.
Cane farmers in the area have been planting for years now and are part of coops operating between the two Canal Polders. Wales Estate has been a lifeline for many of the families, about 300 of them that depend on it for a livelihood.
There have been meetings between GuySuCo and farmers, starting late last year, on new prices.
The Ministry of Agriculture yesterday said that discussions are ongoing over the logistical movement of cane to facilitate the proposed integration with Uitvlugt estate. A joint task force is being established to examine and resolve the logistical issues.
According to farmers, they have not been benefitting from concessions like fuel, a major input, and fertilizers, making it hard for them to exist.
“We need to get at least $100,000 to stay above water,” a farmer from Canal Number One said. He has 40 acres and recently rented out half, after it became clear that there would be losses.
Another major problem facing the farmers is the current El Niño dry spell which has wreaked havoc for farmers and GuySuCo.
Already the corporation said that about half of the crop for next year will not be there and if no rains come with the next two months, this year’s target will be badly affected.
Several cane farmers on the West Bank have to hold off on planting because of water.
In addition to farmers, scores of workers from Wales estate have been picketing and asking through their union, the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers’ Union, for a rethink of the decision.
Government had been at pains to defend the closure, saying that the decision was taken to halt the hemorrhaging of Wales and by extension, GuySuCo.
According to the Ministry of Agriculture yesterday, the new management that took over Guyana Sugar Corporation last year, shortly after the David Granger-led government was sworn in, discovered an industry that was suffering from chronic financial indebtedness – one reduced to almost a state of penury.
“For example, at the time of the management change in mid-2015, even the workers’ deducted contributions to their credit union had not been paid up – in the order of $165M.”
Additionally, between the National Insurance Scheme and Guyana Revenue Authority, a total sum of $6.3B was owed. Embarrassingly, even the pension fund contributions were not handed over to the fund.”
Wales and Patentia, two villages, have literally built themselves around the factory, with many of the small businesses dependent on the canecutters and their family.
Wales was the most inefficient of its seven factories in Berbice and Demerara, producing at almost three times (US$0.38 per pound) what it was selling sugar for ($US$0.13 per pound).
The Ministry yesterday said that the most recent meetings with the workers, directly, also proved a positive engagement, in that the management was able to respond in detail to every query that concerned each category of employee’s future.
“As it turned out, productive work can be found for all, but 13 mechanical tillage operators could be severed, but only if the equipment they operated was not available. This situation is about to be resolved.”
GuySuCo has also promised to report on its diversification plans for the industry no later than October 1, 2016.
GuySuCo has been thorn in the side of consecutive governments, racking up billions of dollars in losses annually, and consecutive failure to reach targets. It did achieve the original annual target last year under the new Government, for the first time in more than a decade.
However, with over 16,000 workers, no Government has been willing to take a decision to shut the industry down, saying that the socio-economic fallout would be too much.
In addition, sugar exports have been hauling in a huge chunk of foreign exchange annually, a fact that will not be easily in any other industry anytime soon. (Leonard Gildarie)
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