The Government continues to provide support for the sugar industry, with the latest being the provision of $4 billion over the next four years to increase yield, which should ensure that the sector remains profitable. Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, Hon. Roger Clarke, who outlined details in a report circulated at a conference organised by the Jamaica Association of Sugar Technologists (JAST), in Ocho Rios, recently, said despite relative decline, the sector remains very important to the Jamaican economy.
“Through the Cane Expansion Fund, we are supporting a massive planting and replanting exercise to take cane farmers output to 1.4 million tonnes from about 500,000 tonnes currently, and increase cane yields to above 70 tonnes per hectare from the current average of 50 tonnes per hectare,” the Minister said in the report. “We also aim to bring an estimated 8,000 hectares of new land into production, and our projection is to get cane farmers to increase production of cane by some 800,000 tonnes within the next four years at a cost of $4 billion,” Mr. Clarke said.
The Expansion Fund, the Minister outlined, will provide some $3 billion for land preparation, harvesting, equipment support on a revolving basis over four years, for farmers in Clarendon and St. Catherine. “We are also improving social infrastructure and making alternative arrangements to replace estate clinics. To this end, we are about to rehabilitate and upgrade some 13 facilities at a combined cost of $213 million. Over the next four years we will be spending $3.4 billion on social programmes, and over the course of this financial year, we have already made provisions to resettle 876 residents of sugar estate barracks islandwide in some 40 housing solutions at seven relocation sites in four parishes, at a projected cost of $1.4 billion,” he added.
Meanwhile, President of JAST, Derrick Little, said the sector can rebound, but a formula must be found to “enable the driving forces of the industry to outnumber and overcome the restraining forces, so that the industry can progress and take advantage of the opportunities that are in the sugar cane industry."
“Sugar will not disappear from Jamaica’s landscape anytime soon, but its future and progress relies on investment and efficiency. Investments in machinery, equipment and human resources are fundamental to improving efficiency. Sorting out our inefficiencies therefore, is the first step towards improving production,” Mr. Little argued.
For his part, Chairman of the All-Island Cane Farmers’ Association, Allan Rickards, said that all interests in the sector know what to do to attain increased production.
“Jamaica’s sugar cane industry is delicately balanced between the road to recovery, and potential unfulfilled, and none of us can claim to be spectators at this period of definition. There are really only two categories in all of this - those who are part of the solution, and those who are firmly rooted in the problem,” he added.
Meanwhile, Mr. Little reported that work done by the Sugar Industry Research Institute (SIRI), showed that replanting in 2012 went well, “the best in several years.” The Cane Expansion Fund, he said, facilitated the replanting effort.
He called for sustained efforts to encourage efficient use of agricultural chemicals, especially fertiliser.
“Much commendation to those estates and farmers that have taken the initiative to invest, and expand their cane development to meet their objectives. Fundamental to improving cane production is to have in place a cane harvesting and transportation system, capable of reaping the canes efficiently,” Mr. Little said.
He emphasised that the sector must move to achieve 2 million tonnes, and advised that the Orange Rust disease that has caused losses in the industry has been contained.
“The demand for new sugar cane varieties resistant to disease continues to be the priority in rebuilding the industry’s cane production. Current low yields across the industry are not sustainable and point to a combination of factors, and which will not be remedied by variety only. The outbreak of the Orange Rust disease, which caused significant losses in the Worthy Park area has been contained with the use of resistant varieties and chemical treatment,” Mr. Little noted.
Researcher with SIRI, Elaine Manning, reported that the quality of the sugar produced by the industry has, for the most part, met the standards demanded by our suppliers.
“There continues to be encouraging signs in some areas of the industry, with the newly privatised Golden Grove Sugar Factory making a marked improvement in efficiency. The implementation of technological changes that will result in improved factory efficiency and an overall improvement in factory performance, has to be pursued in earnest,” she emphasised.