The island’s 14 independent cane sugar farms could become victims of Government’s tight financial situation.
Chairman of the Barbados Sugar Industry Limited (BSIL) Patrick Bethel said this afternoon the farms were facing possible closure due to Government’s failure to honour outstanding payments to the independent producers.
While Bethel could not place a dollar figure on the arrears owed, he told Barbados TODAY that some producers have had to abandon aged and obsolete equipment because
the funds needed to help them retool had not been forthcoming.
Barbados TODAY has been told that the cane farmers are yet to receive the final drawdown from a $73 million loan which Government had secured from the Ansa Merchant Bank for the purpose of retooling the operations of the private producers as well as those employed by the state-owned Barbados Agricultural Management Company.
Apart from that financing, the calculations surrounding the payment for canes supplied to the lone sugar factory at Portvale in St James are of serious concern to the farmers.
“The current shambles with the calculations of the cane payments to the independent producers have cast a dark cloud over the future administration and funding of the sugar industry. As I speak, final payment for the 2016 crop has just been completed, while calculations for the 2017 crop are still in progress. In addition, first payments for the 2016
planting under the ECRIS [Enhanced Cane Replanting Incentive Scheme] programme for some farmers is still outstanding,” Bethel said, adding that all other payments for 2016 cane planting remain unpaid, nearly a year after their due date.
“This, after the minister of agriculture assured the cane farmers that the necessary funding was in place for the 2015, 2016 and 2017 cane crops. In addition to the above miscalculations and late payments, we now see a unilateral attempt being made to introduce a change to the payment calculations which would result in lower per-tonne payments to the farmers for cane supplies during the 2017 crop,” the cane farmers spokesman told Barbados TODAY.
Bethel said the farmers now had no confidence in the ability of those charged with the restructuring of the sugar industry, considering that such confidence was the single most important factor in making this programme successful.
“Hard times require hard decisions. If the agency charged with managing the Government plans for restructuring the cane industry is unable after three years to accurately calculate in a timely manner the payments to the cane farmers, then we have to ask, ‘is there a need for the future operation and costs to Government of this agency?’”
As a result of the current situation, Bethel said he was anxiously looking forward to requested meetings with the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture and the chairman of the Barbados Cane Industry Corporation to discuss plans and financing of the sector, starting with the 2018 crop.
However, the BSIL chairman said there was a glimmer of hope for the industry due to a potential source of revenue.
“With the growing interest in the rum products for high quality molasses and cane syrup, as well as the increasing demand for direct consumption sugars, the future for the sugar industry is very encouraging,” he said.
He disclosed that discussions were being held with representatives of local and foreign agencies involved in rum, syrup and sugars with a view to developing additional sources of revenue.
The objective is to make the sugar cane industry self-sustaining and a net earner of foreign exchange, Bethel explained.
“Simultaneously, the BSIL has also been funding research to the tune of $165,301,77 to date on a project for the production of electricity from biomass and/or high fibre canes. As expected, this research has met with many twists and turns over the past year. We are expecting, in the coming months, to take a definite decision on the direction of this programme,” he stated.