The Hampden closure
published: Tuesday | December 17, 2002
THE CLOSURE of the Hampden sugar factory in Trelawny announced by Agriculture Minister Roger Clarke in Parliament last Tuesday appears to have caught the All Island Jamaica Cane Farmers Association by surprise judging from their angry reaction to the announcement. It is the second time this year that a farmers' organisation has accused the Government of reneging on promised support. The Jamaica Agricultural Society (JAS) in April had threatened the blocking of roads when the Government changed its mind on its promise to fund their Agricultural Development Fund.
In this instance however, public opinion will be sympathetic to Minister Clarke as the reasons for the closure as outlined by him are indisputably sound. There could be no economic justification for continuing with a factory that has lost close to half a billion dollars over the past decade and would need nearly as much again to bring it to minimum levels of efficiency. The public is already unhappy with the vast sums that have been dumped into the ailing sugar industry that does not seem to be showing any signs of recovery. The Government cannot be faulted for making what is obviously a hard decision bearing in mind its declared commitment to the restructuring of the industry.
There is no doubt that a social cost to the closure is inevitable. The economic and social life of the communities built around a sugar factory fall apart when the factory is taken out and it takes a long time for alternatives to evolve. The sudden closure of the Hampden factory without preparation is bound to result in severe hardships for the people in the surrounding communities.
The Letter of the Day in our Saturday edition gives an excellent account of the socio-economic importance of the sugar industry to rural communities and the dire consequences of its failure. We believe that the government's action in closing a clearly unsalvageable entity was the correct one. We must insist, however, that its responsibility does not end there. Any deterioration in the social and economic structure of the rural areas has an inevitable national impact that cannot be ignored.
It is not sufficient for the Minister to promise assistance to farmers to transport their canes to the Long Pond factory and to provide redundancy pay for the displaced workers. The government must ensure that worthwhile and sustainable economic opportunities are created and provided for the people in the affected communities and so reduce the pressures on the cities that otherwise would surely result from migration.