By Bibi Khatoon
The sugar industry is one of the oldest industries in Guyana having started when the country was just a colony. Up to 2016, the sector had also managed to remain the largest employer in Guyana.
In the 1700s, the industry started out with 206 plantations and with the closure of three estates between 2016 and 2018, there are only four sugar estates remaining which are being operated by the state-owned Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo).
Struggling to keep up its production while making a profit, GuySuCo, which was established in l976, is looking to diversify its products and is now venturing into the tourism industry.
“The sugar industry has played a key role in Guyana for over 350 years and it has been part of the bedrock in the Guyanese society in terms of economics, in terms of politics, social, as well as cultural aspects,” Corporate Communications Manager, Audreyanna Thomas told the media on Wednesday during a familiarization tour of the Uitvlugt Estate located on the West Coast of Demerara.
Faced with increasing prices on the international market and unfavourable conditions, the industry continues to downsize.
Some have expressed fear that the industry will be closed and so Thomas said, “What GuySuCo is attempting to do through a framework called the Cultural Heritage (Sugar) Tourism programme is to capture the sugar story for Guyana and package it in a way so it could be transferred for generations to come, even if the sugar industry in the next 100 years is non-existent.”
As a part of the programme, Thomas believes that there are many unique attractions on the various estates which can be used to push the product.
She referred to the Blairmont Sugar Estate where the sugar is transported from the factory by a carriage; at the Albion Estate where there is a 1924 Rolls Royce which is still in working condition.
Along with its tours, GuySuCo is looking to set up a Sugar Museum and a Sugar Heritage Park via partnerships with donor agencies and universities.
“This site [Uitvlugt] is one which we have identified to construct that Sugar Museum and to build our first Sugar Heritage park. We’re also in the process of trying to partner with donor agency to have a consultant look at both the tangible and the intangible heritage for sugar in Guyana,” Thomas noted.
The local industry is known for its production of the renowned product ‘Demerara Gold’ and its contribution to the production of the award winning El Dorado rum.
Product Development Specialist with Wilderness Explorers, Salvador DeCaires said “we can certainly sell this.”
He added that the product can be included in the famous Essequibo river tours.
Following the visit, Tour Coordinator for Rainforest Tours, Lisa Smith said there are few areas where improvements can be made but the product of itself is more than ready.
“They already have the product, they already have everything in place, safety, security, it’s just about smoothing out the rough edges with agencies such as the Guyana Tourism Authority stepping in and providing that training and you know providing pointers on how to conduct these tours,” she said.
GuySuCo is also looking to increase its production of white sugar and contribute more power to the national grid to increase revenue.