Guyana’s history is rich in sugar. It dates back to the fifteen-hundreds, when sugar cane was primarily grown and processed into sugar during the dark days of slavery. Even after the abolition of slavery in British Guiana on August 1, 1838, sugar continued to thrive as the main agricultural activity.
East Indians, Portuguese from Malta and Madera and Chinese were brought to Guyana to continue the work on the sugar plantation. This was the first form of paid labour and paved the way for the Guyana we know today. However, the bedrock of the economy was shattered in 2016, when the first of four estates were closed.
Hundreds of workers from Wales estate were sent home, while a few were offered jobs at Uitvlugt sugar estate. This decimated Wales and the neighbouring villages. A former worker at Wales Sugar Factory relives the harrowing situation.
Rajin said, “Wales became a ghost town. All the buzz in the village gone. Even to the communities around died because the estate was shut down.” The gloomy days of sugar in Guyana became darker when the East Demerara, Skeldon and Rose Hall sugar estates met the same fate. Over seven thousand sugar workers lost their only mean of income; most hailing from depressed communities. This cast a shadow over their lives.
Many families that depended on the sugar estates struggled to survive. The Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union, GAWU, the parliamentary opposition and many Guyanese opposed the closure but their cries fell on deaf ears.
But sugar workers never lost sight, as the People’s Progressive Party Civic promised to revitalise the sugar industry, when in government. The faith of sugar workers grew exponentially, when the PPP/C was declared the winner of the 2020 elections, after a five-month hiatus.
From the time he was appointed Minister of Agriculture, the honourable Zulfikar Mustapha, dedicated his energies to revitalizing the Guyana Sugar Corporation. Finally, the government announced the official reopening of the Skeldon, Rose Hall and East Demerara sugar estates.
A new day dawned.
The faces of sugar workers beamed with joy. Over seven hundred persons have already been employed by the Guyana Sugar Corporation, since the reopening of the estates. Ploughing and tilling the estates’ lands are being done in preparation of planting next year.
Sugar workers agree that life is much better with the preservation of operation on the sugar estates. The lives of relatives of the sugar workers became easier with the rekindling of job opportunities.
Under Agri Minister Zulfikar Mustapha, no estate will be closed or contracted. He said government subvention will continue to pour in to GuySuCo, juxtaposing the sugar company to the motor industry of the United Sates.
According to the minister, “when you look at the motor industry in the United States, the largest employer, the United States always gives subsidies to these industries because these industries create jobs for people. The largest employer of people in the country like GuySuCo in Guyana. GuySuCo is producing sugar, sugar is a very important commodity in the country. At the same time GuySuco is the largest employer of people in our country. Sugar production is the largest activities of GuySuCo but then you have other services and then we are looking at diversification where we want to bring value-added products into GuySuCo. So, these are the things we want GuySuCo to do in the future, that is why we have to continue investing in GuySuCo. So, if GuySuCo shortfall in revenue we have to ensure we put aside revenues to subsidise GuySuCo.”