A “master plan” for sugar is being developed as the government pushes ahead with plans to revive the industry, Dr Ashni Singh, senior minister within the Office of the President with responsibility for finance, announced on Saturday.
The government has in the past four months delivered $7 billon in subsidies to the Guyana Sugar Corporation to implement its plan to reopen three of the four sugar estates which were closed by the last government and to revitalize the three that were left standing. Just one of the closed estates – the one at Wales – is not being reopened given plans to set up a development authority to stimulate large scale investments in various sectors.
When the former APNU+AFC government closed four estates and left thousands of workers without jobs it crushed village economies across the sugar belt and left a range of social issues, Dr Singh said Saturday in a visit to Skeldon.
At Skeldon, the problem is even more peculiar. Scores of private cane farmers who fed canes to the Skeldon estate were left shackled with debt to the commercial banks. Dr Singh undetook to have urgent discussions with the commercial banks to see if the loans could be restructured, telling the farmers who would not promise that the loans would be absorbed by government.
But to reopen Skeldon and make it viable, it would need the canes from the private farmers. And with their debt, reinvesting to cultivate their lands, which were abandoned after the estate was closed, seems impossible.
What then? The government is exploring how it could assist the farmers to return to their lands.
What is for sure, Dr Singh told the farmers, is that the Government is on their side and that they are central to the plan to revive the industry.
He undertook to visit on multiple occasions as the government works with the farmers and the sugar corporation to devise a plan of action.