Sugar cane industry rebounding, says Clarke

(Jamaica Observer) The island’s sugar cane industry has undergone resurgence in the past year, with a big increase in the number of registered farmers and record prices being paid for sugar.

Some 1,000 new cane farmers were registered this year bringing the number of registered cane farmers to 9,000.

Meanwhile, more than J$88,000 is being paid per tonne for sugar on the local market, but the authorities say the equipment must be modernised and productivity improved if the gains are to be sustained.

“A new wind is blowing through the industry,” Minister of Agriculture Roger Clarke told cane farmers at the All-Island Cane Farmers’ Association’s (AICFA’s) annual general meeting at the Jamaica Pegasus hotel in Kingston on Thursday.

A cane farmer himself, Clarke said he had been justified in supporting and investing in the cane industry at a time when others were saying it was dead. He said even a Government minister said recently that the industry should be scrapped.

“In all my years in sugar, this is one year I can buy Allan a drink,” he said, addressing AICFA chairman Allan Rickards.

“My God, man! I can eat a food!” an emotional Clarke said, noting his climb from leasing four acres of land to having 600 acres in the crop at present.

However, Clarke warned that while this year’s sugar prices were the best in many years with the help of the European Union, they would not remain that way for long.

He said the Sugar Transformation Unit needed to provide more equipment and better irrigation for the parish of Clarendon, which he said had the greatest potential for expansion.

Modern equipment was required to transport cane and new varieties should be introduced to improve yields, he said.

Meanwhile, Rickards — who was on Wednesday re-elected to serve a new three-year term — described the association as “the most democratically constructed farmers’ organisation in the region”.

He said about 100 of the 114 group delegates were present at the meeting and that the group associations had been restructured so that there were only one or two associations per parish.

Rickards said audited financial statements were passed and will be sent to Cabinet and laid in Parliament for the first time in recent memory.

The AICFA chairman also called for sugar to be branded and marketed locally as well as to countries in the region such as the Cayman Islands, Haiti and Antigua, in order to increase earnings for the cane farmers.

Rickards said the payment of J$75,500 per tonne for export sugar was unprecedented in Jamaica, but a situation in which all other stakeholders made money before the cane farmer could no longer exist.

“If sugar is to survive, we in this room must survive,” Rickards told the gathering of mostly elderly men from rural Jamaica.

Both Clarke and Rickards emphasised that the sugar industry was vital to the survival of communities such as Annotto Bay in St Mary, Lionel Town in Clarendon, Grange Hill and Savanna-la-Mar in Westmoreland, and Adelphi in St James.

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