Saturday, April 20, 2024

Get a FAQ please


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I am no fan of university education or its often meaningless degrees. After years of pure science at St Augustine, a student asked lecturer One-Ear Barnes when we would start to learn agriculture.
“We can’t teach you that,” replied One-Ear. “To learn agriculture you need go and work alongside the Aranguez farmers.”
The Internet has rendered university education even more superfluous. You can now get a FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) on any subject. Just the other night the wife and I, devastated at not getting our nightly Horlicks, made do with a Horlicks FAQ on the kitchen table.
I can now tell you how founders James and William Horlick went from England to the States, how it’s made, the different types, why it’s popular in India and much more. As an accomplished Horlicksologist I could write a Horlicks thesis on everything except why the local agents don’t have it in stock.
There’s no excuse for ignorance in today’s world. Or for talk show hosts who say they have no knowledge of our sugar industry yet sneer at its importance and very existence. Such moderators need to get a FAQ. Here’s a brief one for their benefit:
Q. What qualifies you, Lowdown, to write a FAQ on the Bajan sugar industry?
A. I was born and raised at a sugar factory cum plantation. In 1965, the sugar producers set up a diversification unit under Graham Gooding to explore alternatives to cane. I joined a year later.
We did extensive research on many food crops (including English potatoes), cotton, pineapples, you name it. Gooding developed instant yam. We held discussions here and abroad on crop and livestock systems.
Q. And your conclusions?
A. Given our climate and conditions, no crop comes even close to being a replacement for sugar cane. Apart from being an unrivalled foreign exchange earner, its benefits as a rotation to other crops, in maintaining our soils, in supporting livestock, its spin-offs and by-products make it a winner every time.
Q. What are some of these?
A. Col. Dowding saw sugar cane as a field of grass (the cane tops) on a field of sugar. The tops are welcome fodder in the dry season, the whole cane excellent animal feed. Sugar cane bagasse is litter for chicken pens; molasses for feed, rum and as a health tonic for humans. We have had wax and hardboard factories here using sugar cane peel. But above all sugar cane is the best restorative for our soils after they’ve been depleted by other crops.
Q. Anything for the tourists?
A. Undoubtedly the ambience sugar cane provided in its heyday made Barbados a place worth coming to. In 1961 I overheard a recently returned Trinidad group enthusing over our neatly laid out fields: “The whole place is like a beautiful well-kept garden!” Contrast that with today’s situation. Barbados is now a scrubby dump of which no true Bajan could fail to be ashamed.
Q. Can you justify keeping land in sugar when people want housing?
A. There needs be no conflict. Every plantation has acres of “rab” land unsuitable for agriculture but ideal for building. It is an unpardonable sin to use fertile land for buildings.
Q. Can you expect a majority black population to be enthusiastic about sugar?
A. If, instead of railing against sugar, politicians had devised means of putting the plantations under black ownership, we might now have a mainly black plantocracy. My late friend and colleague Jeff Garvey went from Westbury Road boy to owning his own estate.
Q. But isn’t sugar uneconomic?
A. Not to the dreadlocked vendor who brags he sells $400 a day of Constant’s canes. Not to the juice producers. Sugar can make money. But not if we let yields fall while paying higher wages than anybody else.
Q. Any final words?
A. The decline of sugar is hitting us in many areas. Based on figures I just made up, the rat population (and risk of lepto) has increased 329 per cent since estates no longer bait fields. Prostate cancer is up 68.3 per cent since motoring men have nowhere to weewee without Maxine McClean honking at them. When a “cane piece” was just that to us country folks, there was no problem maintaining a young population. Sugar was, and can still be, everything to Barbados.
• Richard Hoad is a farmer and social commentator. Email


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