Guyana is the largest sugar producer in the Caribbean Community. Sugarcane is grown in several areas near the coast. Temperatures are high all year round and the area receives about 2000 mm of rain each year. This is good as sugarcane requires high temperatures and at least 1500 mm of rain annually to thrive. Also, there are two rainy seasons and two drier periods. Therefore, there are two sugarcane harvests per year. The sugarcane is allowed to grow during the wetter periods and harvested in the drier periods.
The soil near the coast is deep and fertile. It is therefore suitable for growing sugarcane. Most of Guyana’s population lives on the narrow coastal plain, providing the sugar estates with an adequate supply of unskilled as well as skilled labour. The main road which runs along the coast makes estates easily accessible and also provides the estates with access to other areas.
The fact that the estates are located near the coast makes it easier to export their finished product. All sugar estates are located relatively close to one of the ports from which sugar is exported. Sugar is transported by ship from Blairmont, Skeldon or Georgetown.
The system of sugarcane cultivation in Guyana makes controlled flooding possible. Before sugarcane is planted, the fields may be flooded for months. This kills weeds and also deposits minerals and nutrients in the soil. It also helps to control pests. This lessens the need for weedicides, pesticides and fertilizers. Parasites such as the amazon fly are used to control pests.
The planting of sugarcane is usually done by hand. Cane is usually planted in beds to aid drainage and this makes the use of machinery difficult. In some cases, the soil is too soft for heavy machinery to operate. Heavy machinery is used in only a few places.
There are many canals which cross the sugarcane fields. Almost one eighth of the area of the average sugarcane field is taken up by canals. This elaborate system of canals is used for irrigation. These canals are also used for transporting the canes to the factories. Sugarcane is transported in small flat bottomed boats (known as punts) from the fields to the factories.
Sugarcane is usually harvested manually. After the cane is harvested, the roots are sometimes left in the ground to produce new plants. This is known as ratooning. This is done up to four times. Then the fields are ploughed and replanted.
It is important to note that much of the work involved in sugarcane cultivation is done by hand. This includes planting and harvesting. Therefore sugarcane cultivation in Guyana can be described as labour intensive.
In Guyana, eight sugar factories are operated by a government owned sugar company called Guysuco. It grows sugar on 470 square kilometers of land. Some sugarcane is also grown by independent farmers. Sugar production in Guyana was over 218,000 tonnes in 2013.
Most of the sugar produced in Guyana is exported to the European Union. Some is exported to the United States. Some is sold to other Caricom member states including Suriname, Dominica, Antigua, St. Lucia, Grenada and Jamaica. These markets pay more than the world price, allowing the sugar industry to remain profitable. After supplying these markets, any remaining sugar is sold on the world market.
Watch the video below which shows the harvesting and processing of sugarcane on Skeldon Estate in Guyana.