It takes two hands to clap
THERE ARE TWO VALUABLE INDUSTRIES in Barbados which are being badly neglected. Apparently the powers that be think that timeliness of their actions is not important.
The sugar industry as I have said time and time again is important from many standpoints, not least of which is protecting our soils and contributing to the ambience of our landscape. Of course it contributes to foreign exchange earnings and to employment at a time when both are scarce.
In recent times we have been hearing quite a bit of emphasis being placed on energy security and the use of renewable energy aimed at reducing the imports of fossil fuels.
The Barbados Light & Power Company recently put forward a project where a mix of power sources, including renewable energy is being considered to achieve the production of 29 per cent of our energy from renewable sources by 2029. Bagasse is one of these sources being considered for generation of renewable energy.
What is amazing is that those who make the policies appear to agree with the renewable energy plan, but do not seem to realize that the sugar cane industry and the renewable energy industry have to run in sync or there will be no bagasse available to produce the energy.
While they are dragging their feet (and have been for the last decade) on a definite decision on the future of the sugar cane industry and on the payments due to the industry for the last two years as well as the vast sums of value added tax refunds due to the sugar cane farmers, the industry is dying, and along with it, the source of cheap biomass.
If this biomass has to be imported, it will cost three times as much as bagasse.
The other very valuable industry which is being squandered is the sea-island cotton industry which is in a state of dormancy, with no firm word from Government on its future direction.
The value of this unique product is reflected in the following quote: “Sea-island cotton is one of the most valuable and costly cotton varieties. It is known for its strength, silky feel, lustre and long staple . . . . Commercially it is used in the production of very high quality textiles . . . . It is unbelievable, so light, airy, silky and exotic . . . . It is like bombyx silk but also reminds me of rabbit angora”. – Stonehill Spinning
The best quality sea-island cotton is grown in the Caribbean islands. We have been producing lint for very many decades, with varying results, and it was hoped that the advent of the company Exclusive Cottons of the Caribbean Inc. (ECCI), would have taken the industry to a higher level where, instead of exporting raw lint, we would participate in the global distribution of the finest cotton garments, thus adding value and benefiting both farmers and investors.
But after nine years this has not been achieved and ECCI’s mission which is “to be an efficient producer of superior quality 100 per cent West Indian sea-island cotton, finished goods and value added cotton-based products; for supply to local, regional and global niche markets, while maximizing returns to stakeholders” remains but a myth.
Acreages have decreased, we continue to ship limited quantities of lint and there has been a deafening silence on the progress of this very promising value-added project since the Government has taken over its ownership.
The strategy in the original business plan identified a marketing partner with a brand and many fine products already positioned in selected market places.
However, this partner was kept dangling for so many years he has apparently given up and used another producer.
In the meantime, we continue to do what we have been doing since time immemorial – ship lint overseas for others to produce the finished products. It is alleged, too, that the genetics of the variety has been compromised and that the quality has deteriorated.
Harvesting of this year’s crop has begun and the problem of sourcing pickers is being faced by farmers. This is a pity since it is claimed that there is high unemployment, and cotton picking is quite an easy job.
This task could even be a source of funds for service clubs, Scouts and Guides. Perhaps the numerous other groups who constantly waylay customers at supermarkets soliciting donations for sponsored walks might be encouraged to participate.
Of course, the droves of Drainage Unit workers seen in recent weeks weeding roadsides could also be considered for the cotton harvest operation. In my opinion, it would be a better use of their time.
Anyone interested in harvesting cotton has been asked to call the Barbados Agricultural Management Company Limited (Ms Esther Brathwaite) at 422 2809 for details.
• The Agro-doc has over 40 years experience in agriculture in Barbados, operating at different levels of the sector. Send any questions or comments to: The Agro-doc, C/o Nation Publishing Co. Ltd, Fontabelle, St Michael.