Despite years of underwhelming sugar production, all is not lost for the country’s oldest, but ailing industry, Minister of Agriculture and Food Security Indar Weir has revealed.
In fact, Weir has announced plans to revitalise the now dormant Andrews Sugar Factory in St Joseph to focus less on export and more on renewable energy, tourism and production of locally-manufactured bi-products.
“We are looking at Andrews carefully and there are some preliminary plans we are looking at on how we can use Andrews as a part of the entire sugarcane industry,” he announced on Starcom Network’s Down to Brass Tacks radio programme.
The agriculture minister lamented the discontinuation of preferential treatment under the European Union, which secured an overseas market for sugar exports resulting in previous Governments offering incentives to keep the struggling industry alive.
Now, he said, Government is seeking to correct a situation which restricted sugar producers from exploiting the full value chain.
“The sugar we produce will be produced for the domestic market and direct consumption where we package our sugar…and hopefully be able to get them on the cruise ships to tell our story about sugar,” said Weir, who identified the production of more molasses as an asset to local rum producers.
But the real value, he said, would come from renewable energy production which he expects to be an uphill battle. Nevertheless, he promised that stakes in the industry would be made available to those who currently produce sugar.
“It was proposed that we get up to about 20 megawatts. I don’t know if that will be possible still but all the bagasse that comes from the sugarcane will be used to create biomass for renewable energy. I currently have a consultant working on this and he is working in conjunction with the stakeholders in the sugar industry.
“It is not a simple, straightforward exercise. We have to get their buy-in and in order to get their buy-in; we have to discuss the project with them on an ongoing basis. Once we have achieved that, I believe enough will be done for us to get these same sugar producers to own shares, and equally all Barbadians would be able to buy shares in the renewable energy plant that is going to be set up,” promised Weir.
As early as February, reports indicated this year’s harvest would fall well short of expectations and stakeholders are already predicting drought conditions could significantly affect the 2020 crop.
Despite the challenges, Minister Weir expressed confidence that once the project’s renewable energy component was completed, the sugarcane industry would be well-equipped to service the full value chain.
As part of the thrust, Weir declared a higher standard would be expected from farmers in terms of husbandry practices as he hit back at critics of Government’s agricultural polices over the last year.
“This process cannot be finished overnight…when I listened to the conversations on air I am sometimes dumbfounded to hear some of the things that are coming over.
“We have done a huge amount in agriculture since we became Government and I am very proud of the farmers’ involvement and enfranchisement drive which brings young people and technology together in a way that we have never seen before,” he said.