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Private farmers say industry in dire straits; Estwick unavailable

Private sector players in the local sugar industry are unhappy they have been left out of major planning for the multi million-dollar industry.

Today, the director of Barbados Farms Limited, Ed Clarke, broke his silence on the issue, saying the farmers were simply frustrated and were demanding a meeting with Minister of Agriculture Dr David Estwick.

Dr. David Estwick

Dr. David Estwick

Barbados Farms Limited is a member of the Barbados Sugar Industry Limited. It is responsible for about 15 per cent of the island’s sugar production or a third of the total private sector contribution.

Speaking to reporters following the Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s (BCCI) monthly luncheon at the Barbados Hilton, Clarke said the farmers have been trying to get a meeting with Estwick for well over a year. He said, however, they have not had a chance to discuss it with the minister or anyone else from the ministry.

The last attempt, he said, was in February, and as far as he was aware promised meetings with the minister and the umbrella organization the Sugar Industry Limited had been postponed “a couple of times”.

Neither the minister nor other officials from the Ministry were available to speak on the matter up to the time of publication.

“We heard the high level announcements for the US$270 million plant. The Japanese are funding it. The river tamarind [aka myamosee plant] as part of the raw material, the sugar farmers are going to produce up to 250,000 tonnes of cane, that is the involvement we have had,” said Clarke.

“The sugar industry is in dire straits and [with the] major sugar project that is ongoing now the private industry has been trying for well over a year to get details of the new project. We have been trying to meet with the Minister of Agriculture to understand the new project and understand the role the private farmers will play in the new project, without success,” lamented Clarke.

“You cannot have somebody who contributes 60 per cent of the raw material input into the sugar industry and not be involved in what is going on in the future of the industry. It just cannot happen. You are asking for issues. You don’t come after the fact and then involve that major player in anything. It is just not the right thing to do in any business forum, whether in government or private enterprise,” added Clarke.

He contended that the association should have been included in the project from the start so as to get a full understanding of how the public and private sectors will work together to the success of the industry.

“That is all we are asking for. Meet with the private farmers. Meet with the new board of directors of the Sugar Industry Limited and try to explain what is going on in the future of the industry and get their involvement and participation in that project going forward. That will ensure success. If that doesn’t happen, who knows what will happen,” he said.

Admitting that the funding would be difficult to come by locally, Clarke said, however, it was possible for more local involvement with “a lot of hard work and a lot of planning”.

He also noted that commitment from the Government to grant long term contracts to farmers was needed for the growth and sustainability of the industry.

“We need to understand how the new factory will work, how the raw material, outside of the sugar cane, will be harvested. Who is going to have all the input costs to deal with that. We do not understand that aspect of the project,” he said.

“We have done everything the right way; followed all protocols, went through all the channels and we have not been successful,” added Clarke.

He said: “I believe it is time the Minister of Agriculture meets with the private sugar farmers. It is as simple as that. And then from there on we can then discuss the next steps.”

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