Sugar cane production falls to 27-year low in Guyana

Sugar output in Guyana is expected to fall by nearly a quarter from last year, as the Caribbean trade bloc's largest sugar-producing nation struggles with a decline in demand from the European Union.

State-run Guyana Sugar Corporation, known as Guysuco, said Sunday that the nearly 140,000 metric tons produced in 2017 is the lowest in 27 years.

The decline comes as Guysuco struggles with a debt load of more than $500 million and prepares to permanently shutter three of its six industry facilities and fire about 4,000 of its 15,000-member workforce by Dec. 31.

Guysuco, which was run by Bookers Corp. in the United Kingdom before it was nationalized in 1976, said most of its sugar cane plants have already been harvested and production won't climb significantly higher during the last week of the year.

Sugar was once the country's largest source of foreign exchange, with an average of around 300,000 tons produced yearly up to the early 1990s.

But the crop has been in steady decline over the last decade due to crippling labor strikes, manpower shortages, unseasonal weather and the massive decline in demand of the European Union.

The company said it will sell about 60,000 tons of sugar to the bloc next year, down from 170,000 tons five years ago. Earlier this year, Europe eliminated its system of sugar production quotas and minimum pricing, opening up the sugar beet market and reducing dependency on raw cane sugar from Guyana and other Caribbean countries.

Sugar output in Guyana last hit a low of 129,000 tons in 1990, largely due to weeks of labor strikes.