Thursday 9 April, 2020

Barbados' sugar cane harvest set to begin, industry to be transformed

Agriculture Minister, Indar Weir 
(Photo by Linda Branch)

Agriculture Minister, Indar Weir (Photo by Linda Branch)

The harvesting of Barbados’ sugar cane crop is set to start on February 24 and the Ministry of Agriculture has announced government will be implementing several initiatives to transform the industry. 

Speaking at a press conference over the weekend, Agriculture Minister, Indar Weir, said the planned initiatives will allow the industry to generate increased profits over the next five years, noting that the sector's performance has been steadily declining. 

The threat of cow-itch, private farmers not receiving payments on time, lack of funding to buy fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides, equipment and drought were some of the problems cited that have long-impacted the industry.

“I am concerned that we have allowed an industry to slip so badly that our sugar industry is not only declining in yields, but the husbandry practices that are carried out both at BAMC and with the private farmers is way below acceptable levels. And so therefore we have committed ourselves and agreed that this can no longer obtain. 

“When you add all of these variables you start to understand the pressure that the sugar industry is under. Frankly the industry will take a complete overhaul and that is what we are attempting to do as a responsible government,” stated the Minister.

Weir explained the transition of the sugar industry over the next five years will include moving beyond the focus of bulk sugar to looking at domestic consumption and direct consumption of sugar, increased molasses production with linkages to the rum industry and using factory waste to produce biomass for a renewable energy source.

The Ministry was also reviewing its relationship with the partner who handles the government’s exporting of sugar to the international market. 

“It is not all gloom and doom. There are great, great, great opportunities ahead of us and we are hoping to take full advantage of what is available and where we can now take this industry. We have presided for many decades over producing sugar in bulk, exporting it to an entity outside of Barbados for them to sell it back to us in a product that sometimes costs three, four times more than what we sold it for. Those days are over.

While acknowledging this transformation will not happen overnight, the Minister said government is committed to making a start. 

“We have cleared all the debt to the private farmers,”Weir said in relation to outstanding payments owed to farmers. “The Government of Barbados has committed as well to make sure we can provide the farmers with the necessary equipment needed to make sure the industry can move forward.”

Weir also disclosed the Ministry and the Barbados Agricultural Management Company (BAMC) Ltd reached an agreement on Friday, February 21 with the Barbados Workers’ Union acting on behalf of sugar industry workers.

He noted that Portvale Sugar Factory was already prepared to receive the sugar cane crop, whose harvesting is starting earlier than it did in 2019.

Weir also cited the establishment of a steering committee within the BAMC, which will be joint with the BSIL. He has asked the BWU Deputy General Secretary to nominate an individual to serve on this steering committee, which will oversee “a process of monitoring and evaluation” to help the industry stakeholders keep on track with industry changes.

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