West Bank Demerara Co-ops plead with Gov’t to prevent collapse of their businesses
Members of Cane Farming and Marketing Cooperative Societies located on the West Bank Demerara are calling on the Government to help prevent the imminent collapse of their businesses following its plan to shut down the Wales Sugar Estate.
Representatives of various Region Three (Essequibo Islands/West Demerara) Cooperative Societies which supply sugar cane to the Wales Estate met on Monday with Minister within the Ministry of Social Protection with responsibility for Cooperatives, Mr Keith Scott, to air their grievances.
Sam Persaud Knight, Chairman of the Canal No. Two Cane Farming and Marketing Cooperative Society said that the Estate’s closure will force many Societies out of business because they will be unable to bear the higher cost of transporting cane.
The Co-ops currently earn around $58,000 per tonne to move the harvested cane from field to factory.
Knight claimed that following government’s announcement of Wales Estate closure, the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GUYSUCO) at a meeting with cane farmers promised an ‘all weather road’ will be built to facilitate transportation of the cane. However, GUYSUCO’s feasibility later indicated an insufficient amount of cane planted and harvested among the Co-ops to undertake the road project.
This was a blow to the Region Three Co-ops.
“This would make even more societies defunct because they cannot afford the transportation cost. I would want to believe that more Co-ops are going under if nothing is done,” he warned.
Knight’s sentiments were echoed by Secretary to the Maria’s Lodge Cooperative Society, Mr. Clinton Dey, who noted that farmers have to rent punts to transport cane from the backlands at approximately $7,500 per trip.
“…(I)t can’t pay for us to bring out the cane from the backlands given the price we get for it. So we really need government to intervene and help us to either have the punts free or at least at a lower cost,” Dev said.
Famers are anxious about the prospects of facing further financial afflictions which they reminded Minister Scott will greatly hinder them honouring their obligations with local commercial banks.
Mr. Claudius Charles, Chairman of the Free and Easy Cooperative Society, called on the Minister to study what options the government could provide to soften the impact of the blow the embattled Co-op farmers currently face.
“We small farmers are particularly affected and we want to know what the Cooperative Department at the Ministry (of Social Protection)…can do to help us,” Charles queried.
Charles too wants the government to step in and save the Region Three cane farming businesses.
When he spoke, Minister Scott said many of the problems cane framing and marketing cooperatives are facing could be addressed with diversification.
“We are hoping that we can move from cane farmers’ cooperatives to farmers’ cooperative, which encompasses farmers of other crops. We are encouraging reforms to overcome some of the difficulties,” he said.
Nevertheless, he promised to ventilate their concerns when Cabinet meets Tuesday including their calls for government support. Scott told them too, that he will discuss possible interventions with Minister of Agriculture, Mr Noel Holder.
According to Scott the Government is moving to resuscitate the cooperative movement in Guyana and a Task Force was appointed to prepare a white paper on the way forward for cooperatives.
This should be submitted President David Granger by next week.
Scott blamed lack of accountability and the undemocratic behaviour of some elected Co-op officials for the current declining of the sector. Interim Management Committees have replaced these co-op leaders whose credibility have been called into question.
“We are trying to revive what used to be one of the most vibrant sectors in Guyana. There are millions of dollars floating around in cooperatives and we want them to use that money to help members, and communities,” Scott said.
Empathising with the framers, Janaknauth Panchu, Assistant Chief Cooperatives Development Officer at the Ministry noted that West Bank Demerara has the most functioning agriculture-based Cooperatives in a cluster and most have been functioning effectively.
However they need new thinking, Panchu suggested.