There is hope for the sugar industry here, says chairman of the Barbados Sugar Industry Limited (BSIL), Patrick Bethel.
But there are some issues that need to be addressed, including bringing abandoned cane fields – some now overrun by cow-itch and others being used to cultivate marijuana – back into cane production.
Bethel said yesterday that not putting the land back into sugar cane production could lead to an increase in the rodent population.
“There is a ring of steel around Barbados; coast guard, radar and the planes that fly around from the regional defense force, but there is a market for marijuana in Barbados. Where there is a market somebody is going to supply the market. That is the world we live in. So what is happening, we see the police finding more and more areas cultivated in marijuana,” he said.
Bethel also pointed out the issue of dumping, which he said stood to affect the island’s scares water supply.
He said: “Once the land is under cultivation, in particular sugar, it saves a lot of other costs that the society is going to have to bear. I know that we will never be able and I don’t think we will ever be able to say if I sell a ton of sugar I am going to get more than what it cost to produce. But when I add in the social benefits to the society there is no question the sugar industry is very valuable to this country”.
Bethel was speaking to reporters on Thursday following a tour of the Portvale Sugar Factory.
He said the sugar industry was too vital to not be given more attention, adding that there were a lot of spin-off effects.
Acknowledging that the island had “a long way to go” in order to grow the industry and ensrue it’s survival, Bethel said the average production of cane per acre last year was about 17 tons and he would like to see that increased to at least 28 tons.
He said what was needed was a lot more cooperation and workers being more efficient.
Bethel also suggested that some farmers who do large-scale farming put some of their land into sugar cane production.
“You also have other benefits of the sugar industry; direct employment, it employs anywhere from 2,000 to 2500 people. And does not include welders, mechanics and the other people who supply the industry. When you consider each of those people probably supports 3 and a half people the sugar industry as we have it today directly impacts [close to] 10,000 people in Barbados.
“So when I hear these talk about the industry dead and want shutting down tell those 10,000 people, many of who are in their 40s and 50s, how you are going to retrain them, where you are going to retrain them and where you are going to send them. There is nowhere to go,” added Bethel.
Having said that through, Bethel said while he believed there should be support from government the private sector should take the lead in growing the industry.
He also stated that there needed to be more timely response from government in fulfilling its obligations to the industry in order to allow the farmers to be better able to plan.