The Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) said for the sugar industry to prosper in the future, it is readily apparent that other income earning streams have to be added.“Our Union strongly subscribes to the position that the industry needs to transform itself from being a ‘sugar’ to ‘sugar cane’ industry,” GAWU stated during its recent presentation on the future of the Guyana Sugar Corporation Inc (GuySuCo) to the Government of Guyana.According to the Union, the entire sugar cane plant will be utilised to widen the range of the industry’s products, thus adding a number of profitable revenue streams. Apart from transitioning the industry from a “sugar” industry to a “sugar cane” industry, a sustained modernisation programme, taking into account the adoption of realistic ventures, using sugar products, must be formulated.GAWU said the main contributor to added-value to sustain the sugar industry in the long-term will be co-generation, noting that the lone co-generation plant at Skeldon, in spite of its short-comings, has great value.“The CoI (Commission of Inquiry) recommended that the Skeldon Co-Generation unit be returned to GuySuCo and a reasonable Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) be negotiated with GPL, a view we also subscribe to,” the Union stated.In addition to cogeneration, GAWU said there exists a ready market in Caricom for a total of 200,000 metric tonnes of refined sugar.The Union posited that the higher prices, in contemporary times, only serve to add to the project’s feasibility. It added that the recent indication by an Indian investor to take over Skeldon’s operations with a view, among other things, to establish a refinery, serves to remind of the significant sums that can be earned in this venture.GAWU also strongly supports the maximisation of GuySuCo’s existing capacity, along with further expansion in this regard given the profitability of product lines.“The opportunities for new product brands are numerous. Critical to this venture is the need for a robust product development and a marketing programme with clear vision and focus. North American and European markets ought to be pursued with energy. Efforts on the Geographical Indicator will boost marketing of branded products,” the body noted.The production of bulk alcohol is also another viable business venture and another distillery in the country could be established next to a sugar factory, GAWU stated.The Union also pointed out that fuel alcohol production from molasses is also another opportunity to enhance revenues and reduce imports.The Union further proposed that the Corporation should examine the sale and production of a darker form of brown sugar.“In North America, similar sugar is being marketed as a form of health food. Marketing is once more a critical factor to success,” GAWU stressed.Reducing costGAWU also recognised that GuySuCo is confronted by high operating costs and reduction is imperative to ensure competitiveness.GAWU noted too that the Sugar CoI report also affirmed the view that GuySuCo was not adhering to known and best agricultural practices.GAWU added that research is also a critical element in the cost reduction drive, as well as the adoption of best practices.Perilous pathTo assess the sugar industry solely on the basis of finance can lead the country down a perilous path, GAWU explained.GAWU further stated that any closure and sell out of the estates can very well see many ordinary working Guyanese being pushed on to the breadline with little hope for the future and increasing desperation to survive.The Workers Union posited that such a situation can become troubling for the National Insurance Scheme as many of the redundant workers would have already qualified for pensions when the contributor base would be shrinking.Moreover, it said the contagion in the banking sector is another serious consequence that must be borne in mind as many workers have been able to secure mortgages and other loans and maybe unable to service those debts. Additionally, the reduction in income also has deleterious effects for the commercial sector and all in all Government’s revenues and employment in our country would be reduced.Another more significant effect, GAWU noted, is the societal issues that would emerge in the form of criminality, destitution, suicides, divorces and other such ills.GAWU said the education of workers children can also be affected and this does not augur well for future development.GAWU outlined that given its wide scope, decisions cannot be made in a slipshod manner as the consequences and repercussions can be serious, if not disastrous, for the nation.“In view of the obvious, the necessity for a socio-economic study cannot be overemphasised. Such studies are an indispensable tool to policymakers in arriving at sound and well-thought out decisions which are in the interest of the people,” GAWU stressed.Meanwhile, People’s Progressive Party point man on the economy, Irfaan Ali said he is highly disturbed with the actions of Government in concluding the stakeholders’ forum without a social impact assessment, economic feasibility and full diversification studies.“It is inconceivable that the Government would want stakeholders to present options and solutions without these fundamental studies. The AFC on the parking meter issue pointed to the lack of a social and economic impact study, but saw no need for these studies for the sugar industry. It is obvious that the Government is guided by purely political expediency and at the expense of thousands of families,” Ali noted.The parliamentarian said this is an assault on families and communities in the sugar belt.
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