From what I have seen in the media and during my visits, the people in Wales community and its environs are suffering untold hardships because of the shutdown of GUYSUCO operations there simply because it was done without proper structure.
The suffering and hardships are mirrored in every facet of the sugar-producing district where GUYSUCO has slammed the doors shut on sugar workers. This is precisely why I wrote, before and after the closure of our major sugar estates, that there will be serious repercussions for the entire country if sugar production is cut and the factories closed.
Sugar workers are not the only ones suffering. What about the sudden decline of spin-off businesses? What about the drastic drop in spending power among jobless sugar workers? What about farmers and grocers whose income depended largely on sales to sugar workers and their families; the people who produce or who are vendors of milk, chicken, fish, vegetables etc.?
What if many of the unemployed former sugar estate workers turn to producing cash crops and cause a glut in the market? Prices will fall, sales will dry up and there will be more widespread hardships. This will affect other cash crop growers and, inevitably, lead to more theft and other crimes.
I am very sad that Government apparently did not do due diligence studies before closing the sugar estates. This failure has unleashed a multitude of terrible penalties and crushed the lives of some of the most vulnerable people in Guyana.
I believe Government made a tremendous mistake by closing the estates. Even Government officials and supporters are admitting that they cannot sell non-functioning estates at the sale prices they had expected, so the rewards or compensation will be too small. Why didn’t they think of this before?
It is common knowledge that if one has to sell something like a car; it must be working properly before one can get the best price. Why didn’t the sellers of our sugar estates use the ordinary man’s marketing technique, called commonsense, instead of just closing the estates and putting them up for sale?
It seems that some of our politicians want to do the same thing that was done back in the post-colonial era when former then-Prime Minister Forbes Burnham sold out our train system.
It is known that PM Burnham regretted that decision. Imagine the great benefits of a local train system today; think of the modernization and expansion. Trains (street cars) would have been traversing the city streets, like they do in Amsterdam, San Francisco, Toronto, Germany and all across Guyana. Motor cars would not have been necessary within the city and the air pollution, the glut and the smog would not have been an issue. Our people would not have been so dependent on unreliable, unregulated minibuses.
Now I am seeing the same dilemma with the closure of the GUYSUCO estates. Reactivating the abundant lands to make them ready for sugar planting once more will call for a tremendous financial investment. That is why I was saying: If you wish to sell, keep the estates alive and churning while looking for a market.
Otherwise, diversify using former sugar factories for milk production, milk processing, converting milk to powdered milk or evaporated or condensed milk. Let’s learn from countries with flat lands like our coastal plane, like the Dutch. Unlike the Dutch, we are lucky in that we do not have winter here.
We could have partnered with the Chinese, the Indians or the Dutch. We could have at least one factory to start producing in bulk, or edible coconut oil for export, or virgin coconut oil to be used on the skin, or as a natural healing base for makeup and shampoo.
What will happen to the non-functioning estates? Are we going to leave the machinery and equipment to grind to a complete halt so that they rot and are torn apart by vagrants?
Why not use the non-functioning estates to produce powdered and canned coconut milk or canned and bottled coconut jelly and water; canned fruits like jack fruit and cane pieces steeped in cane juice; soaps and detergents? We had a golden opportunity to partner with the same countries and people who were and are interested in buying us out for nothing. I know it’s hard because maybe the people in the government are not business-oriented.
Since, we were being hit by big losses in the sugar industry, it would have been far more worthwhile for us to invest in exploring different diversification options to keep our people employed, rather than close the estates and throwing workers to the wolves.
Didn’t they learn from Mr. Burnham? He did not intend to do a bad thing when he closed the railway and nationalized industries. But look what happened?
Mr, Burnham thought he was doing a good thing. But we were not mature; we were not ready for nationalization. The Marxist-Leninist system had heavily influenced both he and the late President Cheddi Jagan and they thought we had the ability to manage our resources.
We lacked and still lack proper managerial skills for such vast industries.
They did not take into consideration that our people are not accustomed to that kind of administration, so the communities and the people of the nation suffered. The people will continue to suffer even more if we do not act wisely and reverse what is happening with the closed sugar estates.
Some of the oil revenue, when it comes, should be used to help to keep the sugar industry alive until we diversify or partner with others to improve and expand our agricultural sector. Then we could come out of sugar production smoothly by using a very methodical and wise approach.
Roshan Khan Snr.
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