La industria azucarera de Barbados necesita iniciar un proceso de racionalización de los recursos
A TOP engineer who has worked in the Barbados Sugar industry believes that there is an immediate need to institute plans for the industry to maximise its revenue earning streams, reduce costs by rationalising operations at the factories and take interim steps to move towards a single factory operation.
Mr. Ram Sahadeo, who heads Sugar Engineering and Consulting Limited, noted that two of the immediate products which can bring in much needed additional revenue to the industry are from the sale of electricity and bottled water from sugar cane. “Efforts must be made to reduce some of the losses from field to mill and within the sugar manufacturing process itself at the factories. Increasing yields at the fields and improving cane quality delivered to the factories must be a priority. Training/retraining and some capital expenditure are required, but most importantly a change in thinking on how to move forward is key to success,” he said.
Sahadeo made the suggestions during an interview with Business Monday. He further noted that it is not likely that the high price of electricity will decrease in the near future, given the increasing cost of oil which currently is over US$100 a barrel. “Therefore, the industry in Barbados has a wonderful opportunity to supplement its income by using bagasse from the sugar cane as fuel at the boilers to produce steam, which in turn is used to generate electricity for sale from its turbo generators,” said Sahadeo who spent 15 years as an Engineer at the Andrews Sugar Factory in St. Joseph. He explained that this is a renewable energy source and that there are several sugar producers generating electricity to improve their overall finances. “There is also a lot of fibrous vegetation and wood chips that can assist in the process as fuel and this is an opportunity for small businesses to come on board to supply materials for processing as fuel, much in the same way as scrap metal dealers operate,” he suggested. The net benefit to Barbados, householders and businesses can be significant as less fuel oil will be required for the generation of electricity.
“The industry can also use the water from the cane juice, which is evaporated and condensed before the production of sugar begins, and some of this water can be bottled and sold. It is natural water from the cane,” he said, noting that this process is taking place in Kenya and the capital cost is small. The other income streams from the sugar cane are high test molasses, which can be sold to the rum distilleries in Barbados to make rum or ethanol. “But we must get a fair return or review what we can get from the sale of this product. High quality special sugars and a special grade sugar with small grains for tea and coffee and maybe another grade for cooking is yet another option,” Sahadeo remarked.
“These are not new ideas, we know what to do but we need to get on with moving forward even if it means moving some of our recurrent expenditure to do new projects now,” he explained. He reasoned that “If we can’t move towards the ideal situation at this time because of apparent limitations with funding, then surely we can redirect our efforts incrementally towards the ideal arrangement with a single factory operation; instead of simply maintaining the existing two factory operations. There are several equipment suppliers interested in supplying the requisite equipment. Sometimes that our limitations are really about how we think, our willingness to face the future and make to changes”.
Saying that there are opportunities to do more with the sugarcane, the Engineer pointed out that Barbados must not go the route of other countries especially in the Caribbean, which were getting out of sugar production. “I have observed people who were directly employed in the sugar industry in Trinidad and Barbados are hardworking, productive and living with a purpose to do better and we should encourage this positive work ethic,” he believes. “Barbados is one of the best places in the world to grow sugar cane because of the favourable climatic and soil conditions, and the island should continue to capitalise on this and the future can only be as good as the decisions made to embrace the present opportunities especially with the continuing high price of oil and the opportunities for renewable energy,” he reasoned.
According to him, a number of countries including the United States are holding on to their sugar industry although in many cases and certainly in that of the USA, cheap sugar can be imported. He said that the issue of addressing costs in the industry can be tackled by rationalising the mode of harvesting and transporting of canes from the fields to the factories. “The acreage (of land) under sugar cane has to be well managed, there has to be better field preparation, and that should include investing in equipment for land preparation and cultivation; improved agricultural practices and yields; and improved efficiency in the industry especially at the factories where approx. 16 per cent of the available sugar in cane is not converted to sugar,” Sahadeo maintained.
Furthermore, the Engineer stated that there is no industry that has the multiplier effect as the sugar industry. As a result, every dollar spent in the industry goes to the far reaches to the people in the rural areas, who are most dependent directly and indirectly on the spin off created by the industry. He added, “there is no industry or social programme that can compete with the sugar industry dollar for dollar and what is most important is that dollar goes a long way in the sugar industry”.