Here we go again!
How else can we sum it up except to say: Here we go again!
In one week we will be in November, galloping toward 2013 and the start of another sugar harvest. In a matter of weeks the few fields of sugarcane we have left will start sprouting “arrows”, an event that usually signals the maturing of the plants – an indication that the machinery in the factories will soon begin to turn.
Each year though, the cane arrows become fewer and fewer – to the extent that they now capture the attention of Barbadians like never before. What was a spectacularly beautiful but quite common sight for centuries has now become pretty close to rare. It seems like these days the few cane arrows around are surrounded by fields of bush. Perhaps to be more precise, fields of cow itch vines.
We are about three months from another sugar harvest, which no doubt will be smaller than last year’s. Barbados, once the mighty capital of the world of sugarcane production, will struggle to surpass 30,000 tonnes of sugar.
Our sugar sector has benefitted from a massive outpouring of talk over the years, has been subjected to more examinations than a patient being prepared for open-heart surgery, and yet year after year a clearly sick sector continues to lose weight with no indication of when the surgeons will start their work.
When will we see the first steps toward a sugar cane industry, as our talking heads have been spewing forth on for the past decade? What preparations have been made for the country to produce, market and benefit from the value added commodities that we have been told are key to the industry’s survival and regrowth?
If we are going the route of specialty sugars, as we have been told so many times, can the process be completed using the two obsolete and problem-plagued factories we now operate at Portvale in St. James and Andrews in St. Joseph?
Barbados’ cane-breeding station at Groves in St. George has a well deserved international reputation, so what have we done nationally on the issue of identifying, testing and growing the right variety of cane to support the ethanol industry we are hoping to derive from our new approach to sugarcane?
Again, can Portvale and Andrews, as now constituted, support such diversification? And if we have to set out a new factory, as we have been talking for years about the one-factory model, how long will it take to construct and become operational? And will we have to change a national way of thinking to accommodate harvesting at different times of the year, or will we continue to harvest cane in February, March and April to support ethanol production year-round? Or will ethanol production be a periodic thing?
There are so many questions that Barbadians generally would like to know the answers to, that the situation must lead them to wonder whether the powers that be at Graeme Hall and Bay Street are in a position to help. There can’t be many people left in this country, whether grower, industry worker or just plain old John Public, who under the circumstances have much hope for the revival of king sugar, even to the status of peasant.
And with each annual harvest that rushes by like a blur, hope must dissipate with just as much momentum. It’s time for our industry and political leaders to actually lead.