Feature: Deciding The Future Of The Cotton And Sugar Industries

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Dr. David Estwick (FP)??

Minister of Agriculture, Food, Fisheries and Water Resource Management, Dr. David Estwick, says careful consideration will be given before any decision is made regarding the future of the local cotton and sugar industries.

Speaking at Monday’s town hall meeting on agriculture at the Alexandra School in Queen’s Street, St. Peter, he said two proposals for the local cotton industry, one from the United States of America and the other Europe, were presently being examined by ministry officials.

He added that government was seeking to develop a marriage between the production and marketing aspects of the cotton industry, which would lead to an integrated sector.

"What we are now trying to do is to get them together in a formal way, so the side that deals with lint production and the side that deals with the marketing element, would be formed into an integrated cotton industry in Barbados. That is what we are trying to accomplish," he pointed out.

Dr. Estwick continued: "It makes more sense to bring the two of them together, so that we can actually produce in Barbados, an integrated product from growing the cotton locally and producing finished products."

The Agriculture Minister added that those discussions were ongoing and "taking a little longer" as the Ministry was taking into full consideration issues related to land allocation.

He stressed that the Ministry of Agriculture had to ensure that with any decision made, there would be enough arable land to drive that industry and local food production.

"In Barbados, we have 106, 000 acres of land. How is that land divided? You have 53, 000 considered as arable land and [the other] 53, 000 as non-arable, under the Physical Development Plan of Barbados. So, out of the 53, 000 acres of arable land, the plan was to take out 27, 000 acres for sugar. That leaves, therefore, [26, 000 acres] for non-sugar agricultural food production.

"If we are to concentrate, therefore, on redesigning and rescuing the sugar industry, we have to be careful how we plan out which one is going to be the primary production industry…as we move it through this integrated process towards value added", he explained.

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Dr. Estwick added that any decision reached by his Ministry would be evidenced-based and not grounded in nostalgia.

"I am going to tread very cautiously and make sure the decision taken by my ministry is going to be evidence-based and whichever side we land on, whether it is going to be a modern sugar industry that is going to have the capacity to drive electricity and ethanol production and produce specialty sugars and so on, I have to make sure the facts, the consultations and the evidence given to the Ministry supports that decision," he stressed.

According to the Agriculture Minister, several studies were carried out on the sugar industry over the last 4 years and based on that evidence, he was aware of the requirements for that sector.

However, similar information regarding cotton was not available at this time. He said, therefore, if any decision was to be made for a cotton industry, then the Ministry would have to determine how many acres of the crop would need to be planted on an annual basis.

Dr. Estwick also revealed that Barbados was encountering significant problems with cotton yields.

"Not only have we had significant problems with the yields in cotton, but we are now being surpassed significantly by countries in the Caribbean in terms of the quality of cotton, yields and the length of the yarn, among other issues. So, there is a lot of agronomic work and genetic evaluation we need to do to get the cotton industry to a point, where the type of seed cotton and other dynamics may necessarily be the type of output we are looking for. We are not there at this particular point in time.

"I have to wait until the evidence shows me clearly which path I have to go down because I only have 53, 000 acres of arable land in Barbados to work with. There is no more land and I need 27, 000 or 30, 000 acres for a revived sugar industry in Barbados," the Agricultural Minister concluded.

andre.skeete@barbados.gov.bb

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