|Minister oF??Agriculture, Food, Fisheries and Water Resource Management, Dr. David Estwick(right) and Permanent Secretary, Michael King, are pictured at the meeting with officials of the sugar industry today at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre.??(Image: Ministry of Agriculture)|
Once the sugar cane industry is transformed there is every possibility it can be "a positive and a profitable industry, where everyone can benefit".
This was underscored by Minister of Agriculture, Food, Fisheries and Water Resource Management, Dr. David Estwick, following a meeting between officials of his ministry and the Barbados Agricultural Management Company, the Barbados Cane Industry Corporation, the Barbados Agricultural Credit Trust and independent sugar growers.The three-hour closed-door meeting was held today at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre, Two Mile Hill, St. Michael.
According to Dr. Estwick, what was most important coming out of the meeting was what he described as "the strain and stresses" that the present sugar industry was under and the urgency to execute the transformation of the sugar industry into a sugar cane industry and to develop all the value-added products "where there are regional and international and domestic markets for those particular products".
He continued: "And so I believe that having had the discussions, the Ministry is now in a much better position to understand the farmers’ issues and the farmers are now in a position to understand what is the plan that we have in place for the transformation of the industry.
The objective is to give them some comfort that we’re there with them and we need to work together jointly to ensure that we do not have the sugar cane industry fall by the wayside."
The Agriculture Minister said it was unfortunate that the farmers were experiencing "significant financial pressure to the point where some of them are being forced to lay-off persons and to gradually reduce the amount of the tonnage of cane that they are planting because they have been carrying forward losses for many years."
As a result of this, he indicated that the challenge the ministry faced was "to put them [the farmers] in a holding pattern by essentially looking to enhance the price support structure, as well as the enhancement of the financing for them to do proper agronomic practices at this stage, so as to increase productivity and…stay in the game of keeping their plantations in sugar-cane production, while we move towards the transformation of the industry from a sugar industry to a sugar cane industry."
Furthermore, he pointed out that creating value-added products could relieve the country of the volatility it was now experiencing in relation to sugar prices on the international market and also the risk from falling prices from the European Union under the Economic Partnership Agreement.?? He added: "…the farmers identified some immediate challenges that they have and they are legitimate challenges.
These challenges are based around price support and also support in relation to the cane replanting scheme."
Dr. Estwick maintained that it was desirable to move into the area of producing specialty sugars since this commodity was doing quite well at this juncture, as well as electricity from the biomass of cane, and ethanol. To this end, he announced: "We’re planning to put about 15 to 20 per cent to our gasoline inputs and also produce high-end Grade A specialty molasses to support the rum industry in Barbados."
The Agriculture Minister noted that it was essential to prevent Barbados from going the route of Antigua and St.Kitts, where serious environmental degradation had occurred as a result of taking land out of sugar cane production. "We cannot afford to lose at this particular point in time," he declared.
Today’s stakeholder meeting was designed to identify the immediate to short-term and medium-term issues facing the sugar industry and to try to create a set of strategies to deal with those particular challenges.