EDITORIAL: Vital role for sugar in our economy
As efforts continue to grapple with the economy in the light of declining reserves and the lay-offs from the Public Service joining those in the private sector in recent years, it is a very refreshing news that there is renewed interest in the sugar cane industry.
This information came from new chairman of the Barbados Sugar Industry Limited, Patrick Bethell, as the media and other directors of BSIL toured Portvale factory, the only factory producing sugar this year.
In the past two decades it has become clear that sugar could no longer be king of the economy, and serious efforts have been made to build golf courses, retirement villages and other tourism-related facilities on former plantation lands to allow the country to earn some of the foreign exchange which was once earned by sugar.
But any reshaping of our economy could not easily handle full-scale removal of the sugar crop if only because of the extensive history of agriculture in which almost all of the arable land was pressed into service in the interests of the imperial economy.
A full-scale abandonment could mean an environmental nightmare, even if other crops were planted. Aesthetically, it would present a less than pleasing ecological picture which might have implications for the picture we present for our island.
Careful analysis of the issue will prove the truth of the sensible notion that there is much to be gained from planting sugar cane, even if the commercial gain from the production of sugar itself makes it a less than viable crop. And so, the Government must be congratulated for its efforts at price support which has encouraged increased planting, with some farmers returning to the crop.
We do not anticipate the return of sugar to its pivotal position as the major foreign exchange earner of the economy, but in so far as the industry still employs about 2 000 people, not including those whose livelihoods are collaterally dependent on the industry,
every effort has to be made to ensure its survival as an important aspect of our economy even if a niche has to be created for products such as specialty sugars and the like.
We are not sure that large-scale production of marijuana will take place on former sugar cane plantations once sugar is not planted, as some, including Mr Bethel fears could happen, but we are aware of the national benefits which may come from exploring the new possibilities of the sugar industry as opposed simply to the sugar crop.
Not to be ignored too is the production of alternative crops such as sweet potatoes which may assist our efforts at producing more, and thus importing less, of the food which we eat.
But as the Sunbury experience has shown, planting sugar cane also helps to maintain the quality of the soil and enhances the better production of other crops. Sugar may no longer be king, but it has an important role in our modern agriculture.