On its website’s homepage, the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) proudly displays what it terms a ‘new GuySuCo’. It says that it is “transforming our business” and “exploring our potential: rice cultivation and other crops to ensure the sustainability and viability of our business”. Arrows point from this statement to labelled photographs of cane sugar, fruit crops, aquaculture, dairy farming and seed paddy.

And sadly, that is as far as the transformation extends, although there is a notification lower on the page where GuySuCo explains why it is not pursuing ethanol production as an alternative to sugar production. The explanation, with references to studies, prices and comparisons with other countries producing ethanol makes perfect sense. What doesn’t is why GuySuCo’s research is limited to cane agriculture.       

Beginning in the 1990s and continuing and expanding today, North American companies like Novolex, Eco-Products, Emerald Brand and True Green Enterprises have been using sugarcane waste to produce napkins, toilet tissue, paper towels, wrapping paper, food containers, plates, bowls, trays, cups and cutlery – all non-toxic, all disposable, and all biodegradable. India and Australia have also embraced the technology and since both countries were already growing the crop, the transition to making paper and other products was a natural and relatively easy one.

In fact, making paper from bagasse – sugarcane waste which is burned for fuel, but is also a reclaimable resource – is so easy that there are YouTube tutorials and Wikipedia and eHow pages online offering instructions to average person to try it at home.

But there’s more. Bagasse has also long been used to make particle board for the furniture and housing industries. In its early days, it was used only in interior applications to make office racks, cupboards, table tops, partition walls and ceilings because it was found that the board could not stand up to weather conditions, much like Tentest and plyboard. However, according to reports, Germany experimented with it and found that when the bagasse board mixture was further mixed with cement it became suitable for outdoor use. It should be noted here that Germany does not grow sugarcane and therefore imports bagasse.

Furthermore, countries in Latin America are said to be using bagasse in the production of animal feed, mixing it with corn, millet, urea and adding another sugarcane by-product, molasses, before selling it to farmers, particularly in the cattle and dairy industries.

All of these applications of bagasse represent true diversification in the sugarcane industry, particularly in countries that grow the crop. In other places, they are a huge nod to sustainability: thinking green and acting green.

The question that we have to ask ourselves then is why such innovation never seems to start in our homeland, particularly when we have not only the products to experiment with but the urgent need to find other avenues to use what we have. Nothing is wrong with planting fruit crops and seed paddy or with venturing into aquaculture and dairy farming, but where is the innovation? Where is the modernisation, the transformation? Why is GuySuCo venturing into areas that are already covered by other farmers; areas which, by the way, are not doing that well to begin with? How is that transformative, sustainable or viable?

Perhaps part of the problem lies in the fact that the industry was always seen as the ‘sugar sector’ rather than the ‘sugarcane sector’, where the entire plant was explored for its uses instead of just the cane stalks being juiced to produce sugar. In the USA, sugarcane is grown in Hawaii, and according to research done by the University of Hawaii, every part of the plant is used by the islanders. These uses include the leaves for thatching and weaving, the flowers for decoration and embalming and the green tops as fodder for animals.

Just think of how far along Guyana’s green transformation would have been if in 2009 instead of a sugar factory opening at Skeldon, there had been a bagasse board/paper plant. For one thing, it would have cost far less and been less of a headache.

The European Union had announced the end of its sugar protocol with the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries two years earlier in 2007; it had given the ACP a two-year grace period to wean the countries off what had been preferential treatment for some 32 years. The Skeldon factory therefore represented very narrow political thinking that has turned around and bitten Guyana very hard in the backside. (some $300M US)

Today, 12 years later, we seem to have learned nothing from that.
Rather, our politicians haven’t. It truly is a pity that politicians are the ones running countries, since they clearly put power above everything else including economic sense and the environment.