It did not require a genius to predict that the 2013 sugar harvest in Barbados would have been the worst ever. And quite frankly, it does not need the announcement of anyone in the sugar industry or Government to confirm it.
The 2013 reaping and grinding are just about over, and with all the modern agricultural techniques, university educated personnel managing the industry and a largely mechanised process from planting to grinding, we have to admit that we are not doing nearly as well as when mill walls dotted the landscape, horse carts were used to draw canes and the dung basket was a vital piece of equipment for the sustenance of the crop.
What’s worse is that the decline of the sector to today’s sorry state of affairs, was not the result of some grand design by the political rulers or the former sugar barons, but could be directly attributed to the inertia and inept leadership for the past two decades.
Yes, the fall in the price of sugar on the world market, the increased support for beet sugar in Europe and the loss of guaranteed or preferential markets for Barbados as a member of the African, Caribbean and Pacific grouping, played a part. But in countries where leaders recognised that the ebb and flow of commerce called for constant changing to stay in the game, even though they suffered through extremely challenging times as we did, today they are growing with sugar. Just look at Jamaica’s expansion of sugar, and Brazil has literally remade their sector while we were talking.
Now let’s pause. There is nothing sacred about sugar! It has never been divinely ordained that we must grow sugarcane “for ever and every, amen”! Our leaders, those who we elect because they offered us hope over the last quarter century, if they saw it fit could have advanced a programme of agricultural diversification, utilising alternative crops that could have adequately replaced sugar.
The problem is that all we have ever had in relation to agricultural diversification has been talk — with a few half-hearted trials with cotton, peanuts, corn, fruits in the Scotland District, and of late grasses for livestock. What, without a doubt, we have to show for our efforts at diversification is an entire country that is not-so-slowly returning to nature — bush covered.
Here’s a reality check! Next year’s sugar crop will be even worse. Why? Because there are fields that were cut over the last three months that are not going back into sugar production, and the number of fields of freshly planted canes are as few as tourists on the beach at Almond Beach Village these days.
What’s more, in case it has missed the country, we are one week into June, and if by some miracle the current Government can formulate and implement some grand plan to inject new life into sugarcane cultivation — as opposed to talking about it for another five years as the Barbados Labour Party did for ten — the most we can hope for would be expanded production in 2015.
New canes don’t reach maturity in seven or eight months, and even if our administrators chose to push back harvesting to the latest possible dates next year to try to achieve greater output from the factories, if cane fire don’t do them in then the increasingly unpredictable weather patterns certainly will.
So let’s chalk 2014 up as another lost year for sugar — even at this early stage. We predict sugar production around 15,000 tonnes. How sad, there was a time when that would have been the figure St. Lucy would have been trying to beat.
We recognise that our leaders of late, both political and of the sugar industry, have an aversion to talking with the media, so forget us — start talking to and planning with the various stakeholders about the resurrection of the sugarcane industry. But please, let the talking be the least time consuming element — let action define the relationship.
Barbadians have been waiting too long to see something concrete materialise.