The Board of Directors of the Guyana Sugar Corporation Inc. (GuySuCo) has given approval for lands to be awarded to 14 private cane farmers to commence the cultivation of sugar canes at Uitvlugt.
These farmers were previously supplying the Wales Estate with canes and this new initiative by government will enable them to become integrated into the Uitvlugt Estate’s upgrading programme. The program is intended to double the production output at the said estate from 20, 000 to 40,000 tonnes of sugar.
The decision to lease lands to cultivate sugar cane was based on the farmers’ scale of operations at the Wales Estate and is also a part of the government’s strategic programme to foster self-sufficiency. One of the approaches towards achieving this is to encourage persons to become self-sufficient in farming.
The overall aim of the programme is to transition the sugar industry into a more diversified agriculture sub–sector, hence it continues to explore feasible alternative ventures to ensure that the well-being of the employees of Wales Estate is considered.
According to Errol Hanoman, Chief Executive of GuySuCo, a number of farmers had applied to be a part of this venture. Further requests have since been received and are being evaluated.
Additionally, employees from the Wales Estate were engaged on several occasions in discussions with regards to securing their future. One of the options which were discussed earlier in the month of February is the current proposal of government leasing lands to those employees from the estate who are interested in venturing out into self-sufficient agriculture activities. This venture is aimed at creating wealth and providing jobs for residents and sugar workers in Region Three. It is expected that with the right support and commitment from interested employees, they can be transformed from a state of depending on an employer to becoming self-sufficient.
In early February, some of the employees attached to the Wales Estate were involved in discussions on the option of lease lands being made available to them by the government.
In an interview with the Government Information Agency (GINA), Wales Estate’s Manager, Devendra Kumar spoke of the importance of ensuring that employees are given first preference, to access lands to better enable them to become farmers. He added that the session in engaging the employees on lease lands was a part of the initial phase and the objective was to ascertain whether the employees had an interest in the venture proposed by the government and GuySuCo.
“The kind of projects that we have earmarked on just to remind you, is in the area of rice cultivation, possibly aquaculture, the establishment of orchards and dairy farming. As far as that goes, where we are talking about dairy farming and orchards, we’re looking at the possibility of setting up juice processing facilities and pasteurization facilities here at Wales Estate to process the juices, as well as the dairy products,” the estate manager explained.
One employee expressed his interest in the government’s proposal to possibly do cattle rearing but opted on going after the venture through a co-operative society. Some employees stated that co-operative societies and unions have made them feel cheated and therefore their preference in moving forward with this proposal is to do so as individuals. Others would like to see systems in place to ensure that they have significant guarantees and access to markets even before venturing into farming.
As the Wales Estate transitions to become involved in other forms of agriculture, the government and GuySuCo have recognized that the livelihood of employees is dependent on the output of this particular estate, as a result, cane harvesters and cane transport employees were offered continued secure employment at the Uitvlugt Estate. This was according to a press release from the Ministry of Agriculture (MOA).
As the reorganizing of the Wales Estate continues, the government is intent on retaining most of the employees of that estate to work on projects to be commenced, as well as have them reallocated across the Corporation.
It should be noted that employees who could not be retained at the estate, received $80.1M in severance pay in 2016.
Some of the employees despite being offered placement at Uitvlugt Estate have been demanding severance pay and some of them have not yet taken up the offer.
“This new and sudden demand for severance is most unreasonable and appears to be politically instigated. Extensive efforts were made to ensure continued employment of the Wales Estate employees at Uitvlugt Estate and this we hope can be successfully achieved,” the press release stated.
The employees have complained of the distance they would have to travel to the alternate estate and indicated that a full day’s work would not be possible.
The MoA release stated that “transportation is being fully provided to Uitvlugt from the West Bank of Demerara and back. GuySuCo has stated that no cultivation worker is responsible for providing their own transportation.”
Additionally, reference was made to a similar re-assignment of employees from Skeldon Estate to the Albion and Blairmont Estates (a greater distance of travel) and the employees have not been making this an issue, instead the adjustments were accepted.
Since coming to office, the coalition government has undertaken to re-organise GuySuCo with a view to transforming it into a Corporation that is more resilient in the course of making it profitable and less dependent on billions of dollars of subventions from the Treasury.