One of Barbados’ main private sugarcane producers is calling for an urgent overhaul of the struggling industry and for greater focus to be placed on earning more from a variety of outputs.
Director of Barbados Farms Limited Edward Clarke told Barbados TODAY of the need for a revamping of the sugarcane industry with the “utmost urgency”, adding that survival of the industry was heavily dependent on a strengthening of partnership between private sugarcane producers and the Barbados Agricultural Management Company (BAMC).
“Trying to generate revenue at the final product end that is where the farmers and the BAMC as a whole will benefit in the long run,” said Clarke in a recent interview.
The industry has witnessed a significant decline in recent years, which has been compounded by late interim support payments from Government and drought conditions.
So far this year, Government has settled a portion of its millions of dollars in debt to the private cane farmers for 2018 and earlier periods.
The farmers are said to be owed over $2 million for the 2018 harvest for interim support from Government and more than $1.7 million for this year, along with final payments for this year’s output.
As the sugarcane producers await payments, they are engaged in discussions with the BAMC and Government to come up with a feasible plan for the industry.
Clarke said the private sector producers have been putting forward their ideas and would continue to do so until some firm decisions are taken.
“We have to resolve the 2019 outstanding payments and also look at trying to resolve where we are going as an industry as a whole. The sugar industry has to be revamped, has to be transformed. It cannot continue to operate the way it is and the Government has made it very clear it cannot continue to support the industry at the level it has done in the past,” said Clarke.
“The BAMC needs to transform and move into the 21st century. I think ultimately, Barbados has to try and make better use of the final product, whether it is through alcohol production, whether it is through use of syrup for the rum producers or whether it is through energy, because we have to be able to make better use of the agricultural space and generate revenue for the farmers and the agriculture sector through the use of land,” Clarke explained.
He added: “Everybody might not be able to produce sugar cane anymore. Some operators might be able to produce raw material for energy and other sources of output.”
“It is important that we get the revenue at the output end and not at the raw material supply end,” he insisted.
The business official admitted that a transformation of the industry would take some time, but insisted that in the end the industry cannot survive without the private farmers and the private farmers cannot survive without some form of support at this time from the Government side until there is a fully transitional industry.
“It is going to take a few years to get there. So it is important that we get that transitional part agreed on so that we can agree on a final target and where we want to be as a sugarcane industry, producing what is needed for the final output,” said Clarke.
He complained that the weather had wreaked havoc on the industry in recent times, coupled with the late payments from Government.
“Late resources or inputs being applied and a terrible drought, both of them together are a recipe for disaster for our crop and that is what happened in the 2019 sugar harvest,” said Clarke.
“We hope that next year will be better, but it depends heavily on the weather and the supply of the resources to put in the inputs at a proper time,” he said.
This year’s sugarcane season, which ended over five months ago, yielded well below the 137,000 tonnes of cane initially forecast, resulting in only 7,400 tonnes of sugar being produced, approximately 36 per cent below that of last year’s production.
At the end of the last sugarcane harvest season, Minister of Agriculture and Food Security Indar Weir had indicated that Government was keen on extracting more from the ailing industry at the output end.
In fact, he said the focus would be more on renewable energy, tourism and production of locally-manufactured by-products.
Weir said Government was still in the process of coming up with a viable plan to revitalize the now dormant St Joseph-based Andrews Sugar Factory.
Central Bank Governor Cleviston Haynes recently echoed similar sentiments, saying that the glory days of sugar were over, and the time had come for officials to give serious consideration to the diversification of the sector.
“We have to determine what it is that we want from the sugarcane industry and one has to make a distinction between the sugarcane industry and the sugar industry. Maybe you might have to look to see if there is something you can get out of the sugarcane industry other than sugar. Are we going to produce solely for domestic purposes?” Haynes had said.