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Minister of Agriculture Indar Weir needs to comprehensively address the issue of the sugar industry in Barbados.
The cane growers, those employed in the industry and those with an interest in agriculture need to know whether the new Barbados Labour Party administration considers sugar a strategic agricultural industry, or if the sector will simply hobble along. It has been in decline for a number of years, shedding jobs as growers switch focus in a situation which is unlikely to be reversed unless there is clear ministerial direction.
While the industry’s survival depends on diversification into new industries, there needs to be clarity on plans to help stimulate the sector.
It has already been hinted that the sugar cane factory project at Andrews, St Joseph, is being shelved. So the taxpayers need to know what’s the way forward, and whether the money spent there has gone the way of the huge pond which used to adorn that area. Indeed, Minister Weir must tell the public how much money has been spent and whether stopping the contract will result in any additional cost.
While new technologies are resulting in innovative and often surprising uses for sugar and sugar cane, including the production of bioplastics to make packaging and plastic bags, those are costly undertakings, which is why we need to focus on molasses, which is critical for the rum industry, an important foreign exchange earner.
On the other hand, the demand for biofuels from sugar cane may now be a risky business, given the growth of electric-powered vehicles.
We cannot compete with Brazil, India, Thailand and China, which now dominate the sugar market, considering their levels of output and the various types of sugar.
The relevance of the Barbados Cane Industry Corporation must also be explained, given what seems to be a shift in direction, while the public needs to know the true level of indebtedness of the Barbados Agricultural Management Company and exactly how it will go forward, in light of the substantial acreage under its control. (ES)