Guyana’s Sugar: We should not be building a white sugar plant – By Tony Vieira

We should not be building a white sugar plant

 Letter to Editor: By Tony Vieira

Anthony “Tony” Vieira

Why is our sugar industry a huge problem in Guyana? Well, labe with countries which have mechanised.

Our drainage is poor, because we are below sea level, which meanour is too expensive.  Labour is also short.  We receive too much rainfall to mechanise effectively and have become uncompetitivs that it only drains about 12 hours per day according to the low tides, and to make matters even worse our soils are too clayey to drain freely, and our fields are laid out as cambered beds which are impossible to mechanise without conversion.

Just one inch of rain during the cropping season, can stop all mechanised harvesting operations for as much as two to three days and is the reason why all attempts to mechanise since the 70’s have failed.       

Our heavy clay/silt soil on the coast makes the situation worse and soil compaction causes bad growth, and we can no longer afford inter-row work such as forking to loosen our heavy clays to allow aeration of the root zone between crops. This is a major reason for Guyana’s low yield. Other countries not only harvest mechanically, they also do mechanical inter-row tillage after every crop to maintain high yields.

Our high rainfall makes our cane too vegetative and takes 12-15 tons of cane to make a ton of sugar. Brazil and Australia take more like 7-8 TC/TS. We are paying to cut, transport and mill twice the amount of cane as Brazil does to make the same amount of sugar.

Labour in sugar is very expensive and seasonal, with long out of crop periods during rainy seasons of almost half the year, since we, being so close to the equator, have two rainy seasons per year. Almost all other countries only have one, the estates by union agreement have to find alternative work for the employees for almost half the year when the cane is not being harvested, mid-April to mid-July and mid-November to mid-February making a bad situation worse.

To add to the problem, the sugar we manufacture is sucrose, it is a compound sugar made up of one molecule of glucose and one molecule of fructose. So 50% of our sugar is fructose, there is a growing lobby worldwide to remove all fructose from the diet of humans, since it is now suspected that there is no metabolic pathway for the use of fructose by the human body to produce energy, and it is just absorbed into the liver and stored as fat.

Sugar, they argue, “poses far greater dangers than cavities and love handles; it is a toxin that harms our organs and disrupts the body’s usual hormonal cycles. Regardless of where the Sucrose sugar we eat comes from, our cells are interested in dealing with Fructose and Glucose, not the bulkier Sucrose” so the moment the sucrose enters the human body it is immediately broken down to fructose and glucose. To add to the problem fructose is now linked to colon cancer.

Before some YouTube expert decides that I am suggesting that  we should do away with our sugar industry completely, it is not my thinking at this time. Because we take such a large amount of cane to produce a ton of sugar 12-14 tons compared to 7-8 in Australia and Brazil, we should not be planning to build a white sugar plant, we should be seeking to convert all of our sugarcane biomass into ethanol for manufacturing alcohol and fueling motor vehicles which use gasoline. Since the sugar cane biomass always produces about 19 or 20 gallons of ethanol from one ton of cane when fermented and in view of the difficulties I have outlined above we should be phasing sugar out as we are phasing in something  more suited to our climate and geological location.

Taking the sugar cane fields at Wales to plant coconuts is just nuts. And we keep forgetting the facts which our history should have taught us. In 2004 Guyana produced 325,000 tonnes of sugar. In 2007 Robert Persaud cancelled the Management Contract with Booker Tate because he thought that it was too expensive and that he could run the corporation, the rest is history. Political affiliation has driven appointments in our sugar industry for too long, and the very acute shortage of management skills in the industry today is the result. But as usual we are blaming the GuySuCo management, but it was we, the real owners of the corporation who have allowed politicians to appoint people who were totally unequal to the task of managing our industry.

Now it is very simple to blame these same under-performing managers and not ourselves for sitting quietly and allowing it in the first place, it is we, the people, who own these estates who are allowing people who are totally incompetent, to interfere with the management of the industry which has led it to the sad state it is in today and are outraged when the inevitable happens. Just as we are allowing the Government Ministers who are untrained as managers to make fundamental management decisions which are ruining our country. Even our oil potential as huge as it is, in the wrong hands can lead to disaster, just look at Venezuela, and then look at how badly we have done with Exxon so far.

A good definition of insanity of doing the same nonsense over and over again expecting a different result. We have to open our eyes and see the truth.

The Author:  Anthony  “Tony” Vieira

Vieira is the son of Joe Vieira, whose business acumen and expertise have been of great importance to the development of Guyana in the agricultural sector.

The former Administrative Manager of GuySuCo Estate was appointed Field Superintendent for technical matters in 1965 after obtaining a Diploma in Plant Anatomy and Physiology at the Tropical School of Agriculture in Trinidad and at the University of Guyana. He was promoted to Assistant Field Manager in 1969, and Field Manager in 1973; and finally Administrative Manager in 1976 at the Versailles Sugar Estate.

In 1983, Vieira pioneered the first television broadcast station in Guyana, for which he was awarded the Medal of Service.

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Comments

  • kamtanblog  On November 28, 2019 at 3:27 am

    Very interesting article above.
    Insightful and informative.
    Long on issues short on solutions.

    In my humble opinion
    The brand name
    DEMERARA is very established
    worldwide with most coffee consumers
    preferring brown sugar…not white or
    refined sugar. Very popular in cake making.
    Maybe capitalisation of the Demerara brand
    should be the focus in marketing.
    Eg Colgate/Adidas/Nike et al
    Usually purchase my kilo of Demerara
    from my local Lidl (German/uk) supermarket
    for £1.69 kg. White granulated at half that
    price or less. Needless to say Lidl sells
    3 times more white than brown sugar.

    In our world where market forces rule
    the focus must be on marketing the
    Demerara brand.
    To try to compete with the giants by
    increased production/volumes makes
    no sense …observe what is happening
    to the dairy farmers in USA. Learn from
    their mistakes…will Humpty Trumpy bail
    them out to win votes like his predecessor
    Obama did to car industry ?
    Go figure
    Just another opinion

    Kamtan🇬🇧👽🇪🇸🇬🇧👽

  • brandli62  On November 28, 2019 at 10:54 am

    These are very compelling arguments for moving away from sugar cane cultivation, at least in areas where mechanisation it not possible. It seems to me that one would need to move to other crops, such a rice. Mechanisation is however key, if Guyana wants to be competitive in food production, irrespective of the crops you grow.

    • kamtanblog  On November 28, 2019 at 12:11 pm

      Agree
      Mechanisation in “processing” not
      possible in cultivation….way forward.
      Or as suggested switch cultivation to crops
      that can be mechanised.

      In future robots will replace/assist
      humans in mass production.

      Kamtan

  • brandli62  On November 28, 2019 at 10:54 am

    Trevor, any comments?

    • Trevor  On November 28, 2019 at 2:34 pm

      I’m not aware of global trends with sugar except that if white sugar is the refined sugar that they’re talking about, many people are limiting consumption because of the fatty liver and diabetes.

      There will always be use for brown sugar to produce rum.

  • brandli62  On November 28, 2019 at 1:06 pm

    With growing oil revenues, the rural Guyanese labor force will be need in the cities for construction and renovation work. Furthermore, there will be more jobs available in the service industries. Guyana could turn into the bread basket of the Eastern Caribbean, if the agricultural sector undergoes mechanisation and land reform. What a bright future, if the oil resources are used wisely. By the way, I do not see a need to turn sugar cane into biofuels given that Guyana will have ample oil and natural gas resources. The car industry is anyway moving electric. Solar energy is the future and oil will remain in important resource for the chemical industry.

  • Clyde Duncan  On December 3, 2019 at 5:11 pm

    Ben Richardson (2015) Sugar (Cambridge, UK and Malden, US: Polity Press).

    Sugar – An Overview

    The politics of sugar must be found in the structures of CLASS, NATIONALITY AND RACE.

    It is these social relations, more than the intrinsic sweetness of the commodity or the characteristics of the crop, that shape how sugar is produced, traded and consumed, and which result in what I call here the UNEQUAL EMBODIMENT OF SUGAR.

    This embodiment can be seen today in the corporeal effects of sugar:

    The new type of chronic kidney disease striking down sugarcane field workers in Central America, the high rate of prostitution and HIV in sugar towns in Zambia, and the disproportionate level of tooth decay among poor and Hispanic children in Colorado, US.

    The circulation of capital through sugar is also embodied in the landscape with unequal effects on wildlife. Fertiliser run-off from sugar farming has contributed to the degradation of the Great Barrier Reef in Queensland and the destruction of fisheries in the Indus Delta – by contrast, the sugarcane plantations have provided welcoming habitats for rats and snakes.

    These environmental changes are also social. In the case of water pollution, those worst affected have tended to be indigenous people and artisanal fisherfolk traditionally dependent on communal resources for drinking and fishing.

    By starting with social relations, I diverged from two standard approaches to analysis of the global politics of sugar. The first of these has addressed the poverty-inducing effects of sugar and framed it as an issue of international trade.

    This stems from the curious situation whereby exactly the same product, refined sugar, can be made from two entirely different crops.

    These are the grass crop sugarcane which is grown in tropical climates, and the root crop sugar beet which is grown in temperate climates. The near universal ability to grow these crops has allowed governments across the world to build up a domestic sugar industry by protecting markets from imports and supporting
    producers with favourable prices.

    There are now an estimated 1.1 million jobs in SUGAR MANUFACTURING and tens of millions more in SUGAR FARMING scattered over 120 countries in the world.

    Moreover, sugar is considered by the World Bank to be the second most protected agricultural commodity in the world behind rice.

    In 2008, the level of import tariffs and domestic subsidies on sugar accounted for almost one fifth of all agricultural support – that amounts to a lot of redistributive tax!

    The injustice that both free traders and development campaigners have pointed out is that protectionist policies seem largely to benefit sugar producers in developed countries.

    They argue that by keeping out exports from developing countries, trade barriers have denied poor people the chance to trade their way out of poverty and thus confined them to a life of hunger. Or as the Wall Street Journal once pithily put it: “Addiction to sugar subsidies chokes poor nations’ exports”.

    While trade protection remains important in shaping who benefits from sugar production, the idea that the industry is controlled by wealthy farmers in the European Union (EU) and the US is increasingly untenable.

    First, significant steps towards liberalisation have happened over the last two decades, turning the EU into a net sugar importer for the first time since the 1970s and opening up the US to unlimited imports from Mexico (whilst sending increased amounts of processed food and High Fructose Corn Syrup the other way).

    In fact, the US is consistently one of the world’s biggest importers of sugar.

    Second, demand for sugar has grown most rapidly in Asia, Africa and Latin America, leading to a steady shift to sugarcane planting in the Global South over the last six decades.

    Brazil, India, China and Thailand are now the production powerhouses of the global sugar economy.

    The third problem with the trade protectionism argument is that they treat countries as homogenous units rather than hierarchical societies.

    Since there is significant inequality within countries as well as between them focusing on which country sugar is produced only gives us part of the picture.

    There are many examples of men (and they are usually men) in developing countries who have become fantastically wealthy through sugar while their fellow citizens languish in poverty.

    Two of the richest people in the world in fact built their business empires on the back of sugar trading enterprises:

    The Nigerian Aliko Dangote now worth an estimated $25 billion and the Malaysian Robert Kuok worth $12 billion. Others have found their fortunes as sugar industrialists.

    The Brazilian Rubens Ometto Silveria Mello, worth $2 billion, made his money at the helm of a sugarcane milling company and was dubbed “the world’s first ethanol billionaire”.

    Beyond those agri-businesses selling sugar as an ingredient, there are those re-selling it in the form of manufactured foods and drinks. These include Western-based multinational corporations like Coca-Cola, Hershey’s, Kellogg’s, Mars, Mondelez, Nestlé, PepsiCo and Unilever.

    Together these companies made over $50 billion profit in 2013; a handsome return for their managers and shareholders.

    (Did you know that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, despite its stated goal to improve global health, holds stock in Coca-Cola, Mars, Wal-Mart and Kraft-Heinz worth over a billion dollars?!).

    These examples of wealth accumulation all belie the idea that we can determine
    who benefits from sugar simply by looking at national levels of output and export.

    The second approach to sugar politics has addressed its adverse health effects. If the injustices of sugar production had been framed as a problem of trade protectionism then those relating to consumption have been framed, quite separately, as a problem of corporate manipulation.

    These companies are charged with purposefully misleading the public into dangerous eating habits. On the one hand, they manufacture and market foods high in sugar, salt and fat, and on the other hand, lobby governments to water down dietary guidelines and labelling regulations.

    Like the literature on trade protectionism though, while it contains some important insights, as a political critique this approach also has its limitations. First, it tends to ignore the countervailing appeal of diets and detoxes popular in the media.

    Among these are Atkins, Dukan, Glycaemic Index, Paleo and No Sugar, all of which have changed the consumption of sugar either by discriminating
    against sucrose or shifting eating habits away from sweetened foods altogether.

    Studies which focus only on the dominance of corporations thus miss these forms of (typically feminised) agency and marginalise the response of companies to it.

    Product reformulation using artificial sweeteners and the takeover of health-conscious brands have been particularly common strategies, although by no means a solution to the spread of diet-related disease.

    Second, these studies are divorced from issues of production. One of the biggest developments in recent years has been the growth of the ethanol biofuel market.

    By 2013 fully 15 per cent of global sugarcane production was turned into ethanol; a proportion which is expected to almost double over the next decade.

    Meanwhile, the masses of corn grown in the US that have been diverted into biofuel production has put inflationary pressure on the price of High Fructose Corn Syrup, making it less competitive compared to sugar in the North American sweetener market.

    Ignoring these dynamics blinkers us to which agricultural crops end up in our food, in what form, and why.

    Third, this account has little to say about the prospects for conscious political change. For example, in his otherwise excellent book Salt, Sugar, Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us, the journalist Michael Moss concludes by putting his faith in enlightened shopping to save the day. In his closing paragraph, he argues that:

    They [the major food corporations] may have salt, sugar and fat on their side, but, we, ultimately, have the power to make choices. After all, we decide what to buy. We decide how much to eat.

    Not only is this a perverse conclusion to reach after spending the previous 346 pages detailing the myriad ways that American consumers have virtually no meaningful choice over what they eat, it also rules out other sources of change and ways of acting.

    By reducing politics to individual choice at the checkout and starving it of its collective character and varied institutional expression, accounts like
    the one given by Moss may do more harm than good.

    So how should the global politics of sugar be approached instead?

    My book proceeds from two foundations. The first is that the circulation of sugar is deeply structured by capitalism.

    Since the 1990s this has been entrenched on a global scale. The North American Free Trade Agreement and the formation of the World Trade Organisation have undermined national farm policy, while the industrialisation of China and marketization of food provisioning across the Global South has underpinned a seismic ‘nutrition transition’.

    Through these changes and more, the reach and use of sugar has been transformed. As such, a critical analysis of capitalism is necessary not for advocating Communist revolution of the food system (“Eaters of the world, unite. You have nothing to lose but your fast-food chains!”) but to appreciate why this system has led to social inequality and political crisis.

    Inequality is reproduced in many ways; from under-paying easily exploitable farm workers like migrants and women, to disproportionately marketing processed sweetened foods to racial minorities and children.

    Likewise, the over-production of sugar has led to systematic contradictions including periodic market crashes and exacerbating a global diabetes epidemic.

    These in turn have produced crises (a farm crisis, a health crisis) which state authorities have been called upon to manage. And contrary to the common assertion that equates capitalism with free markets, it is often capitalists who have called for state intervention, either to make a market function in their interests or else protect them from the vagaries of it.

    At the same time as taking global capitalism seriously, it is also important not to ascribe it with uniform and omnipresent characteristics. This is the book’s second foundation:

    That capitalism need not be a single fate. This refers both to the different ways in which capitalist economies can be organised and the limits to which capitalist principles of private property, commodification and endless accumulation extend.

    Think of the bake-a-cake sales that raise millions for charity. These are just as much part of the economy as a factory making chocolate bars or a futures exchange trading sugar contracts.

    What this second foundation does then is to create some room for human agency,
    without which every eventuality would be boiled down to the inner workings of capital – no better than other deterministic accounts of sugar which ascribe everything to its irresistible sweetness or the characteristics of the cane plant.

    This brings us to the book’s central argument, which is that progressive political change is not about changing people’s relationship to sugar per se but changing our relationships to one another.

    Reducing sugar consumption may lower some people’s risk of diabetes, but if those same people remain reliant on poor quality food then it is likely that they will suffer from other forms of diet-related ill-health instead.

    Similarly, increasing crop productivity through high-yielding seeds may help
    farmers make a decent living, but only insofar as they are not then subject to price cuts by other businesses in the supply-chain.

    I argue that this change comes about through site-specific struggles to value life differently. They are site-specific because they take different forms in different places – a campaign against child advertising here, a protest against water pollution there. But what they have in common is a desire to govern by a different metric, one that recognises values beyond ‘the bottom line’; be it the sanctity of
    childhood or the preservation of the environment.

    At its furthest reaches, therefore, the book considers how these contestations might cohere into broader systemic change that would make sugar provisioning more ecologically sound and socially just. A move that, I believe, must ultimately
    challenge the profit-driven organisation of food and farming itself.

    • kamtanblog  On December 4, 2019 at 4:24 am

      Clyde
      Wow …lot to read and absorb.
      However managed to completely read.

      Way forward
      1. Free market
      2. Regulated market
      3. Subsidies

      Am more focused on the Guyana situ !
      Sugar v Rice v Oil …
      Leave that to the marketeers.
      Simple Simon says
      If you export more than you consume
      reduce exports.
      If you do not import any of these major
      resources you control production with
      regulation. Subsidies a temporary fix.

      Focus on qualify not quantity !
      Demerara sugar is a brand name that
      should be protected regardless.
      Basmati rice is a brand name
      Not unlike American long grain rice that
      is sanctimonious.
      By joining OPEC Guyana oil will be controlled
      by “underproducing”.. oil will last longer.

      Therefore I point my finger to the political
      jackasses we elect …opportunist political
      class.!

      There is no quick fix to regulate markets.
      Only legislation can do so.

      Bring on elections

      Kamtan 🇬🇧🇬🇾🇪🇸🇬🇧👽

  • wally n  On December 4, 2019 at 12:32 pm

    GUYANA should get/stay in sugar industry. We have the experience, the land, more importantly the swing towards use of pure brown sugar has shown Exponential growth, many Guyanese surrendered to the use of “Demerara” sugar
    from Mauritius.
    Apart from sugar, there are so many other products that might be worth producing, I am aware it might not be as easy as it appears……
    Finally, at this moment, right NOW Guyana can start supplying the Caribbean with. so many products…….they just won’t buy, prefer to waste their few coins buying US

    • kamtanblog  On December 4, 2019 at 2:13 pm

      USA rebranding.
      Purchase Guyana sugar and repackage
      to export markets.
      USA does this with most foreign
      Raw material/products.
      Way of the world
      with USD$ worlds reservecurrency.

      Go figure

      Kamtan

  • wally n  On December 4, 2019 at 5:03 pm

    WELL…WELCOME TO CANADA. cough. (china))) whatever it takes

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