GAWU recommends a more studious approach to the problems of the sugar industry
The GAWU saw the letter written by former President Donald Ramotar titled “Paradigm Shifts Needed in the Sugar Industry to Return to Viability” which appeared in the Stabroek News on February 16, 2021. Part of what was said by the former president has merit. Indeed, like Ramotar, we firmly believe that the sugar industry can be revitalized and successful. Like Ramotar too, we share the view that sugar and sugar-related products should be among the industries that coexist with the petroleum industry to ensure a diverse and robust economy.
Ramotar stressed that the industry needs experienced and skilled people at the helm. We cannot express any disagreement. Indeed, the industry has suffered from a skills deficit for some time. The situation worsened over the past five (5) years when countless people were lost and square pegs were placed in round holes. Certainly, the former president must be aware of what happened, especially given his long-standing association with the sugar industry.
We are aware that former men and women of the sugar sector, both near and far, have a deep interest in the industry and have been ready to contribute their skills. At the same time, the industry must listen to its workers who also have valuable and valuable institutional knowledge. We also need to develop a new cadre of leaders in the sugar sector. We believe that we may need the help of the known sugar industry and the States to assist in the process. They may be aware of doing tasks differently and more efficiently.
At the same time, we don’t believe that the apparent disparagement from management will help turn the industry around. It may well do the opposite and further demoralize a weakened leadership. The GAWU itself has not shied away from expressing critical views on the leadership. While we would argue that our criticisms were right and wrong, at the same time we do not believe in trying to demean managers. The former president’s lament must be seen in conjunction with the critical role he played as director of GuySuCo for several years and later as president. We undoubtedly believe that he must have had several opportunities to remedy the shortcomings he pointed out.
The former president touted the idea of worker cooperatives to cultivate cane land. It looks like a compelling idea on paper. We believe this is a concept that needs to be properly and thoroughly explored. We remind Ramotar that the industry had sugar cane growers supplying canes to the factory before our independence in 1966. Yet despite this long period, the potential for cane cultivation has not been fully exploited. . There may be good reasons for this, and several factors may be at play. We now know that the industry has difficulty attracting and retaining farmers and therefore transition workers, who cannot afford it. financial compared to farmers, might be a bit of a stretch. That is why we believe that this notion of worker co-operatives should be carefully considered and not rushed, no matter how shiny it is.
With cane cultivation being largely outsourced, the former president said management could have more time to focus on product diversification. GAWU does not believe this is a case where management is unaware of what could or should be done. Much of it has been known for some time now. Several studies have testified to this and Ramotar must be familiar with some of them during his tenure on the GuySuCo board of directors. Certainly, we don’t think GuySuCo knows all the possibilities, but at the same time, they are very familiar with several important possibilities. What is needed now is the mechanism to transform them from concept to reality. Several leads may require further investigation.
Mr Ramotar recalled the possibility that the liquid fertilizers and bagasse briquettes he had spoken of had been tried out a few years ago. Regarding liquid fertilizers, we know that they did not have the desired effect and were likely to fertilize more than canes given their mode of application. This does not mean that we should throw the baby out with the bathwater, but signals the need for further investigation to determine if other solutions are available. Perhaps the cost of fertilizers could be reduced through local production when the gas is brought to land.
Regarding bagasse briquettes, it was indeed a new idea at the time and promising. However, this required the availability of sufficient quantities of bagasse which had been limited by the cane supply. We do not reiterate that compression of waste is a possibility, but we believe that it would require the separation of organic material from inorganic material. In addition, uses of other biomass such as sawdust and paddy husks have been tested at Skeldon and have not given positive results.
The former president mentioned the purchase of machines. We agree with him that these suitable and economical machines be purchased. At the same time, we don’t think the industry should buy the cheapest machine if it can’t meet the industry goals. The union is of course the most interested in these issues because we indeed want to see the maximization of scarce resources for the benefit of the industry, and even more so of the workers.
We are aware of the government’s deep will to rectify the situation of the sugar industry and of its firm will to carry out this task. Obviously, given the administration’s high level of interest in the industry, it certainly needs to pay close attention to the current situation. Without a doubt, he will take appropriate action if necessary. At the same time, our union continues to closely follow events in the industry. We have a vested interest and have seen the difficulties created by the Coalition’s reckless policies. With this in mind, we will continue to do all we can to ensure that the industry stays on track.