Sugar will continue as a major pillar of Guyana’s development –Agriculture Minister – during his budget presentation
Budget 2014 makes provision for the transfer of $6 billion to the Guyana Sugar Corporation (Guysuco) to help the industry reverse its fortunes, an allocation that has been garnering a great deal of interest, from the Opposition over the past three-days of the Budget debates.
During his presentation in the National Assembly tonight, Minister of Agriculture Dr Leslie Ramsammy provided clarification as to what the allocation provides for. The Agriculture Minister also noted that despite the recent performance of the industry, the allocation is necessary as it is too important to the Guyanese economy to be allowed to fail.
He explained that the $6B will be geared towards the mechanisation drive of the industry, “a drive that seeks to address the smaller labour pool that the industry now relies on, and to improve on cane yields in 2014.”
He said, as well that land conversion costs will account for $1.1B with 2,500 hectares of land slated to be converted in 2014 whilst another $1B will be expended on the tillage and replanting programme this year with 9,600 hectares of land to be tilled, and 9,224 hectares to be planted. Investments will also be made in legume and flood fallowing programmes to further enhance cane yields, he said.
The corporation’s capital expenditure programme will also benefit from the $6B, Dr. Ramsammy said. In the agriculture capital programme, investments will be made in all weather roads in all cultivation to improve accessibility, and timeliness of cane delivery to the factories. Additionally, purchase of various pieces of agriculture equipment will be made to further accommodate mechanisation in fertilising, weed control and harvesting, he said.
A portion of the $6B will be spent on the capital programme in the factories. These programmes include replacing old and outdated pumps, improvement of factory automation at Albion, works on the two punt dumpers at Skeldon and the upgrade of boilers at Uitvlugt, Minister Ramsammy said.
And as to the future of the industry, the Agriculture Minister spoke of the ‘two countries’ that the Government and the industry’s critics seem to live in. “Some of us see no future in sugar, but the Guyana I see is a Guyana in which sugar continues in the long-term to be a sweet story. The PPP/C has no hesitation, no ambiguity; sugar will continue as a major pillar of our development,” he said.
The Minister said therefore he was glad to hear the denial from several quarters that there is a plan to close the sugar industry, and all are on the same page that Guysuco will continue to be a major industry.
Nevertheless, he noted that if others are confused about the future of Guysuco, the PPP/C is not, as sugar is Guyana’s past, present and future.
“We will continue to build the sugar industry to continue its role as a lead industry in our country, and we will work with the sugar workers to ensure that their industry continues to provide employment and economic and social gains for our people and our country,” he said.
The Minister reiterated that those who hold thoughts of the closure of the sugar industry are dead wrong. “For those who harbour any thoughts of an exchange of sugar for tilapia or for ethanol, our answer is unequivocal: sugar in bulk and value-added forms will continue to be a primary product in this industry,” the Minister.
“In these difficult times, when challenges seem more than opportunities, some may feel the need to savagely attack our efforts. But the workers and managers have been sticking to the task at hand – reconfiguration of the sugar industry for another century of leading the economic growth of our country,” he said.
This is not the first time that sugar is in distress, though. Minister Ramsammy was confident that Guysuco will recover and 2014 will mark a turning point in the performance of the industry. “We have made major changes in management and we have identified the members of the new board that will take control from July 1,” he said.
He noted, as well that after three years of failing to reach its targets, Guysuco is set to meet its 2014 target. He said that in the last five weeks, Guysuco has already reached 45,000 tonnes or an average of 9,000 tonnes per week. “By the time we get to the budget estimates; Guysuco would have surpassed its first crop of 2013 and still have five weeks of production ahead of it,” he said.
The Minister said too that it will be an understatement to say that Skeldon has not functioned to expectation, but nevertheless, Government will continue to make progress in sorting out the issues at that factory.
He noted that for this first crop of 2014, the factory has already increased on the tonnes of cane per hour processed. The factory has also improved tremendously with its weekly grinding hours with an average of 140 hours per week thus far. There is already a 25% improvement in sugar recovery, he said.