The Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries has embarked on a massive cane planting and replanting exercise to expand local sugar cane production to some 1.4 million tonnes by 2018. This is being undertaken through the Cane Expansion Fund, which forms part of Government’s efforts to revitalise the sugar cane industry.
Speaking to journalists recently at a press conference at the Ministry’s Hope Gardens offices in St. Andrew, Portfolio Minister, Hon. Roger Clarke, said the objective is to significantly increase sugar cane yield from the current 574,000 tonnes over the next five years.
“We are aiming to increase cane yields to above 70 tonnes of cane per hectare from the current average of 50 tonnes (cane farmers) and bring an estimated 8,000 hectares of new land into production,” he informs.
Jamaica’s sugar cane sector remains a major contributor to the local economy and the social well-being of citizens. In terms of foreign currency earnings, the sugar sector earns an estimated US$90 million on average, each year. As such, sugar is the largest foreign exchange earner in the agricultural sector. It is also the largest employer in the sector accounting for about 18 per cent of jobs.
“We cannot forget the sterling contribution of sugar to the education, health and sporting capacity of this country,” Mr. Clarke says.
In spite of the positive contribution of the sugar sector in many areas, there are significant challenges, which must be dealt with, he says. “In short, our industry output is low, our productivity is low and our costs are high. These are some of the key challenges we are now tackling head-on,” the Minister informs.
He notes, for instance that in 1965, the industry produced over 600,000 tonnes of sugar compared to 128,000 tonnes during the 2012/13 period. National average cane yield, last crop, was 48.2 tonnes per hectare. “Our technical experts at the Sugar Industry Research Institute (SIRI) tell us that we should really be falling no lower than 80 tonnes of cane per hectare in order to reap the full benefits of our investment of time and money,” Mr. Clarke informs.
He notes that the goal of overcoming these challenges forms the basis for the Cane Expansion Fund, which was set up by the Sugar Transformation Unit and implemented by the Sugar Industry Authority (SIA).
To further bolster the expansion exercise, the Ministry has ensured that increased funds are made available for investment in the sugar sector. “We have estimated that an amount of $4 billion will be required to achieve our targets,” Mr. Clarke reveals.
He said the Cane Expansion Fund is expected to provide an estimated $3 billion on a revolving basis over the next four to five years to plant and replant cane, provide land preparation and harvesting equipment, and support the installation of sub-surface drip irrigation in Clarendon and St. Catherine.
Already, the Ministry has injected a total of $1.77 billion into the Fund.
In order to provide even greater incentive for cane expansion, as of July 8, this year, the Government has increased the loan rates for cane planting and replanting from $200,000 per hectare to $250,000 per hectare for irrigated areas, and from $190,000 per hectare to $220,000 per hectare for non-irrigation areas.
The programme also aims to ensure that cane farmers will have sufficient funding to cover and complete a high quality land preparation exercise in line with SIRI recommendations.
“Cane farmers, with the support of SIRI and the ALL-CANE Extension Officers will ensure that all cane establishment operations meet the highest standard of quality,” Mr. Clarke says.
He further notes that in order to improve the policy environment within which producers operate, a review of the structure of the SIA and the SIRI was undertaken by PriceWaterHouseCoopers. Mr. Clarke informs that deliberations with sugar stakeholders are progressing very well “and we intend to commence implementation shortly”.
The Cane Expansion Fund forms part of a strategy between the Government and the European Union (EU) under its Budget Support to the Sugar Sector Programme. The programme is funded by the EU at a cost of $9 billion and aims to improve the competitiveness of the sugar sector while, at the same time, strengthening social resilience in sugar-dependent areas affected by the transformation of the industry.