Step in, PM
Sugar stakeholders looking to Stuart to save industry from death
Prime Minister Freundel Stuart has been asked to urgently intervene to save the sugar industry from disaster.
The call comes in light of the startling revelation made last week by Minister of Agriculture Dr David Estwick, in an interview with Barbados TODAY, that virtually all major investors had pulled out of the Government’s US$250 million Sugar Industry Restructuring Programme (SIRP), which was set to get going in January next year.
The Barbados Sugar Industry Limited (BSIL), which represents independent cane farmers, is worried about the impact on its members, as well as the future of the sector as a whole. It has therefore joined with the Barbados Workers Union (BWU) in calling on the Prime Minister to step in.
“We have requested a meeting with the Prime Minister and I know that the union is also concerned and have called for a meeting and I am hoping we [BSIL and BWU] can work together in bringing a resolution to this matter,” BSIL Chairman Patrick Bethel told Barbados TODAY this afternoon, amid rising concerns that the industry was on the verge of death.
Officials at the state-owned Barbados Agricultural Management Company (BAMC), who are responsible for 40 per cent of the island’s sugar production, have so far reported a 9.5 per cent drop in sugar production this year.
However, Bethel, whose farmers’ association produces the remaining 60 per cent, is worried that “the hemorrhaging of land out of production is increasing” and several big players have gone out of sugar.
“The Ridge is out of production, the entire CLICO group – all of the workers, including the managers laid off – Society, Portland, Staple Grove [and] Lowthers [are all] out of production,” he noted, lamenting that not many independent farmers were left.
He said those farmers who remained were committed to going forward with the proposed restructuring, including the introduction of new technologies for planting and cultivation, as well as fertilizers to improve yields at lower costs. However, they were currently lacking confidence and funding.
“All the farmers are despondent and discouraged at this time. I am trying to encourage them to hang tight,” the BSIL boss said.
“If you don’t have the money to pay staff and to plant, you have no choice but to go out of business,” he warned.
With the pull out of major investors, including the Inter American Development Bank, the World Bank and the Japanese, Dr Estwick had also disclosed that an alternative loan offer had been made by the US-based National Standard Finance (NSF).
However, that offer, which was due to expire today, had not yet been approved by Cabinet.
The Minister of Agriculture had also warned that a $60 million sugar sector loan from Ansa Merchant Bank in Trinidad, was also tied to Cabinet’s approval of NSF’s offer.
In light of these developments, Bethel said farmers were still awaiting payments from the Government.
He explained to Barbados TODAY that it currently costs farmers $157 to produce a tonne of cane, but revealed that so far they had only been paid half of the $120 per tonne that had been promised to them.
“We should have had our final payment for cane all like now so. Money is running out and we are not sure about the $30 million [first tranche of $60 million from Ansa Merchant Bank]. Two things we need for the sugar industry to go forward [are] confidence and funding,” the BSIL chairman stressed.