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An evaluation of the economic feasibility of the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) and sugar cannot be based on platitude that its fortune awaits with the right management team and an opened cheque issued by the Government. For several consecutive years GuySuCo has been recording a loss, primarily because the cost of production outstrips the price for the commodity in the world marketplace.
During the years sugar made profit the commodity had access to preferential markets in Europe. Since then a number of sugar producing countries have joined the European Union (EU). This membership led to the EU buying from its members and terminating the preferential arrangements with sugar producing countries in Africa, the Caribbean and Pacific (ACP). Guyana was not left high and dry. The EU gave enough notice and directed millions of United States dollars to retool the industry. The People’s Progressive Party/ Civic administration squandered the money and decided to keep sugar even if it meant relying on the taxpayers to fund it.
As several countries, inclusive of Barbados, sought to mechanise their sugar production from planting to harvesting, Guyana remains a labour intensive operation. This choice has contributed to a significant portion of the operation cost. Research reveals the Desmond Hoyte administration (1985-1992) introduced mechanical harvesters. After the initial trial in Region Six he was dissuaded from continuing because it was felt mechanisation would have displaced jobs. It has been more than a quarter of a century mechanisation in harvesting was attempted but since then Guyana failed to bring the industry in line with modern thinking, operation and behaviour.
Prior to President Hoyte’s efforts, the Forbes Burnham administration ran a diversification programme in GuySuCo. A division dubbed “Other Crops” was established. The diversification programme included aquaculture (hassa and tilapia) and peas production. That programme was politically undermined, demonised and sabotaged.
In the 21st century, Guyana, a poor country is producing sugar and selling at a price far less than its production cost. This means Guyana is subsidising the taste and consumption pattern of Europe and other markets where our sugar is being sold. The subsidising comes at a cost of shortchanging local infrastructural development, health, education, better salary for teachers, nurses, the Disciplined Services, and other public servants. Though the decision makes absolutely no sense to the average person, the government would like the people to believe spending hundreds of billions of dollars is about the socio-economic welfare of the sugar workers and their communities. It is not.
There is no wisdom retaining an industry that is a drain on the Consolidated Fund. Keeping sugar workers in a failing environment denies them the opportunity of developing new skills and innovative thinking. It is undercutting their ability to become marketable and compete in the modern economy. It is simplistic and cruel to have men and women continuing to do the type of work that has not changed much since indentureship. The political aspect to keeping GuySuCo functioning on taxpayers’ money only matters not for the workers’ development but guaranteeing a reliable voting bloc. Sugar workers are being kept in a state of underdevelopment to facilitate the political fortune of their leaders. It is political quixotism at its best.
Sugar is a burden on the backs of Guyanese. Reports on the industry have shown Guysuco is not economically sustainable. No one has honestly denied the impracticality of subsidising the company, including those romanticising that it can be revitalized.