The sugar industry must be expanded in order to survive.
Dr Atlee Brathwaite, chairman of the Barbados Sugar Industry Limited (BSIL), and Barbados Cane Industry Corporation (BCIC) said the uses of the sugar cane plant is one way to preserve the industry.
Brathwaite explained that the island can ill afford the demise of the industry.
“To sell raw sugar at the prices that obtain now, it would not be viable,” he said. “There are still good prices that one could fetch for specialised sugar.
“In addition to that, if one examines the world market trend, the price of even raw sugar is increasing. [But] the quantity that we produce does not allow us to maximise the benefits from increased prices.
The heart of sugar production is to make certain that farmers get a reasonable return for their efforts.”
Brathwaite, in an interview with the Daily Nation, said the industry had two clients to take into consideration: the national client and the individual farmer. The latter concentrates on foreign exchange and the farmer thinks of his investment.
“You can’t sit idly by and allow the sugar industry to disappear from Barbados. It just can’t.?When you are talking about viability you have to think of national profitability as well as that on the level of the farmer. At the individual level, given the price of raw sugar, it is not viable.
“But when you look at the various products that sugar cane can produce, you can sense levels of viability.”
Brathwaite identified ethanol as one of spin-offs from the sugar cane.
“If you produce ethanol and you start restructuring how you utilise say the gas – say replace ten per cent of your gas by ethanol – then it is a very viable undertaking, because we import petrol from Trinidad at a fantastic price.
“And we can produce ethanol at a price below the price that we import petrol from Trinidad. That ten per cent would go a far way in contributing to the viability of the product.”
Brathwaite also said that changing from the sugar industry would be difficult because there was significant investment in it.
“If you survey the farms, people are still trying to grow sugar. They know how to grow sugar cane and they know that if they take land out of sugar cane to grow crops they would lose lots of money.”
He also said Barbados did not have a type of marketing system that provided marketing intelligence to regulate planting of food crops.
“Unless we have an export market – and that requires comparative advantage – because some of the other places can produce vegetables more cheaply, we would have a difficulty. So we have to keep sugar as a core crop,” Brathwaite said.
Barbados currently dedicates about 15 000 to 16 000 acres to sugar cane production.