The Chief Executive Officer of the Barbados Agricultural Society (BAS), James Paul, says it will be a tragedy for the sugar industry if the Sagicor-owned Barbados Farms Limited, one of the island’s largest cane growers, pulls out.
Paul, a Government backbencher in the House of Assembly, is therefore urging the Freundel Administration to step in and help to restore confidence in the industry which, for centuries, was the main pillar of the Barbados economy.
Responding to a question from Barbados TODAY following the launch of the Youth Agri-Preneurship programme this week, Paul said the fact that Sagicor was considering pulling out of the industry was “a real concern”.
“It is a question of confidence,” the BAS CEO said. “At the end of the day, if the very persons within the private sector who grow the sugar . . . do not see a viable future in it, then it is something that we should be concerned about and, to the extent where the Government can do something in terms of giving some injection of certainty, I think that will help.”
At a news conference last month to report the performance of Sagicor Financial Corporation, of which Barbados Farms is a subsidiary, Group President and Chief Executive Officer Dodridge Miller said the company was reviewing its continued involvement in the island’s agri-business sector.
He pointed out that in the last three years alone, Barbados Farms had chalked up more than $8 million in losses due to shrinking yields from land under cultivation and rising operating costs amid uncertainty about the industry’s future.
He said the company was therefore faced with two options – get out of agriculture altogether, or try to see if there was some way of advancing the sale of land to make up the difference.
Miller also said that while he had been hearing for at least the past 15 years about a plan for the agriculture industry, “from Sagicor’s perspective on Barbados Farms, we are not clear and we are seeking that clarity”.
Pointing to an increase in milk production this year “as a result of a progressive move on the part of the Minister of Agriculture”, Paul suggested the same kind of assistance should be provided to the sugar cane industry.
“We are hoping even in the coming budget next week to see some further measure of assistance being given to the industry in order to be able to give that kind of confidence. That is what is needed. If the industry anticipates there is a market for their products and they are given that level of assistance, I don’t think there will be a problem with people remaining in the industry,” the BAS CEO said.
Regarding the planned construction of a new sugar factory, Paul suggested that the focus should be on increasing production now.
In February of this year, the Inter-Sugar Partnership (ISP) announced that it had signed an agreement with Government that opened the way for Barbados to borrow US$250 million from the US-based National Standards Finance (NSF) to fund the Cane Industry Restructuring Project (CIRP) and begin building the facility.
Under the agreement, construction should begin no later than September in order to be completed in time for the 2017 sugar crop.
“I have heard both sides of the argument in terms of the question of the factory. The new factory promises a lot. The fact of the matter is that we are here now. What we need to be able to do is increase the amount of acreage [of sugar cane] that is under production because even the existing factory can grind all the cane that is available,” said Paul.
“It is a moot point . . . If it is seen that the new factory is essential for the future, fine, but you need to have capacity to drive anything and right now we are in danger of falling below capacity,” he contended.