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Tired of promises

Will it ever end?

The it we are referring to is the uncertainty, complacency and downright neglect that has been a feature of Barbados’ sugar industry for what seems like an eternity now.

Study after study has been done and recommendations publicised. Minister after minister, from the ones responsible for finance to those in charge of agriculture, have committed to changes and improvements.

Promises about the construction of a multi-purpose state-of-the-art factory, to finally enable the transformation and diversification of the industry have been repeated ad nauseam.

This subject has been commented on so often within the past decade that perhaps we too will sound like a broken record. In light of this week’s events, specifically Monday’s destruction of 19 acres of sugar cane at Lears Plantation and the $40,000 in losses it is expected to be, it is worth reinforcement.

“This has set me back badly because the revenue from those canes would have been about $40, 000.

Every year I get problems with this. One year I lost 34 acres, it is crazy,” said Lears Manager Elvis Gittens.

He continued: “It would not have been as bad if they burn them during the crop season because you wouldn’t lose them because I could always cut them and sell them to the factory, but when you burn them now when the crop has not started that is a big loss.

“We the plantations are out here struggling right now, struggling badly and trying to make ends meet and sometimes we can’t even get it meet and now we have gone and lost big.”

Gittens’ story is an all too familiar one at this time of year and we are sure other plantation owners and managers will unfortunately have similar stories to tell. The callous act of suspected arsonists in the case of the fire at Lears and other sugar fields in previous years is symptomatic of the neglect and disregard for this industry, which once was the island’s major foreign exchange earner.

It is also exhibited by the fact that the molasses we use to produce our world class rum is imported, and by the fact that we import arguably an inferior quality of sugar for domestic use than that which we produce ourselves, and exhibited in the irony of individuals seeing sugar cane lands as more valuable locations to cultivate marijuana.

We concede it is unrealistic to expect the island’s youth to gravitate to the island’s dwindling sugar cane fields to cut and lift canes like their fore parents did. But if Government and others involved in finding a solution would stop talking and start acting, perhaps the so called green jobs, including those focussed on the production of energy from the promised modern factory, and the others involving numerous by-products of the industry, perhaps agriculture would not be such an unattractive vocation to many.

Regarding the talk, recent statements by current Minister of Agriculture Dr. David Estwick were encouraging.

Speaking last month he said plans for a new multipurpose facility at Andrews Factory in St. Joseph were moving apace in conjunction with a Chinese firm.

“We are working with a Chinese company known as CMEC, which is the sixth largest Chinese state corporation, and they are going to be dealing with the engineering aspects. We are also working with a regional and local consortium because the way the Chinese Import Export Bank works is that they would have one of their state corporations come to them for the funding and then the Chinese corporation would then deal with the engineering aspects,” he said.

“You also must have a domestic component and that is now being put together and we should have a Memorandum of Understanding signed by this week. So, hopefully early in the new year we will be dealing with that operation down at Andrews Sugar Factory.”

The minister also said the new factory would produce some 150,000 megawatts of electricity for the grid as well as “A” strike and “B” strike molasses for the rum industry.

We see no reason not to take the minister at his word and the plans he outlined do sound worthwhile.

The problem for the minister, the current administration, and whoever forms the next Government is that people in the industry and Barbadians generally have heard the same promises and stories so often in the last 10 to 20 years that it will take some effort to convince them it is not all a fairy tale.

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