Wednesday, April 17, 2024

What about a stimulus for sugar?

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Well, the sugar cane crop finally started in mid-March, two weeks later than the original, and already late, date of mid-February.
I am still not clear on the reasons for the late start, having been told by some that it was just “a decision taken” by others that two generators which had been sent to Germany for repair were late in returning, that the general elections would have required the stopping and restarting of the harvest, and by yet others that there was no money to pay for the cane.
Whatever the reason, the late start has done untold harm to an already ailing industry. As usual, fields have been lost due to burning before the start of crop, first crop canes have dried out because of the harvest delay under very dry conditions and rats have been having a “field day”. Of course, the longer the delay, the greater the acreage lost due to predial larceny.
Now the factories, having just started operations, have the four-day holiday weekend to deal with. I will ask again: Do hotels close on bank holidays? Why  then is it necessary for the factories to close?
I can only conclude that agriculture, the poor relative of tourism, has no significance to the powers that be.
There was a flurry of apparent enthusiasm about agriculture and the sugar cane industry by politicians in the lead-up to elections and in the recent debate in Parliament. But experience has taught those in the sector not to hold their breath waiting for anything positive to happen.
Some time ago, Minsters of Finance and Agriculture reportedly asked farmers to hold on for the new $420 million factory at Andrews. The farmers are rightly asking: Hold on to what – ever increasing debt?
They have been hearing about the change from a sugar industry to a sugar cane industry, utilizing all the products from the sugar cane, for the last decade without any tangible progress observed. They have heard of plans for factories with varying costs for years.
When will the new factory become a reality? We heard of possible funding from China and more recently from Japan, but there is little or no action. Contrast this procrastination with the decision taken by Sir Kyffin Simpson in October 2010 to set up a 10 000-acre farm, and that farm is harvesting its first rice crop less than three years later.
What is more upsetting is that the Minister of Finance last week declared that  $600 million was being provided for capital projects that will use considerable foreign exchange and provide a mere 1 000 short term jobs but the sugar cane industry that has employed some 1 500 people over the last several years and earned between $20 and $30 million in foreign exchange in 2012 (apart from its contribution to the rum exports) has only received a mere $2 million of the $9 million promised to it since last year.
If farmers do not receive the remaining $7 million promised to them, at least by the end of May, there will be no cane for this proposed factory to grind by the time it is supposedly completed in 2016.
Government controls the sugar cane industry, since it owns the factories and export of sugar is controlled by law. Therefore, sugar cane growers are at the mercy of Government. Other industries such as electricity are compensated for increases in input costs. Not so with the sugar cane industry.
Independent growers are been paid $45 per ton of cane as was paid in the past two years, while the cost of inputs continues to skyrocket. No support was given by Government in 2011 and 2010 when growers suffered considerable losses.
Will the growers lose many more millions in 2013 or will the Ministry of Finance find a few million in this $600 million to keep this vital industry alive to maintain an attractive environment, a good base for food crop production and earn or save foreign exchange?
The result of those continued losses has been little or no replanting of cane, production down from 250 000 tonnes in 2012 to less than 200 000 in 2013, reduced weed control and fertilizer application and lower yields.   
What will the island be like after sugar? All the Caribbean islands which have gone out of sugar have found no replacement crop in spite of their best efforts over many years. Why would Barbados be any different? Is this what we want for our country – lands covered by bush, strewn with garbage and infested by rodents and cow itch?
We need positive action now!
• The Agrodoc has over 40 years’ experience in agriculture in Barbados, operating at different levels of the sector. Send any questions or comments to: The Agrodoc, C/o Nation Publishing Co. Ltd, Fontabelle, St Michael.
 
 

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