Current Affairs

Current Affairs



Sugar needs private sector help -- Patterson
Observer Reporter
Tuesday, March 11, 2003

Farmers reap sugar cane at the Frome Estate in Westmoreland. The industry has suffered from a decline in production over the years.(Observer file photo)

WESTERN BUREAU -- The ongoing restructuring of the island's limping sugar industry will require "substantial" input from the private sector, according to Prime Minister P J Patterson.

"We have had some intensive studies on this sector. We are going to be having some discussions with all elements of the sector within the next few weeks," the prime minister told private sector leaders at the opening of a three-day retreat in Montego Bay on Friday.

"We do not see a future for Jamaica where provision is not made for sugar. But the industry is going to need restructuring and that is going to have to involve the private sector to a very substantial extent," he added.

Plagued with inefficient factories that house old equipment, poor weather conditions, and farmers who have had a hard time understanding that cane cultivation should be run as a business, the industry has suffered from a decline in the amount of cane under cultivation.

Last year, for example, government closed the Hampden Sugar Factory in Trelawny due to its continued poor performance, which saw it chalking up some $450 million in losses.

Agriculture Minister Roger Clarke, estimated then that it would require a whopping $400-million investment to return Hampden to "a minimum level of efficiency". A group of cane farmers put forward a proposal to operate the facility, but they are still awaiting a response from the government.

But questions have long been raised about the viability of the sugar industry, with calls for cane framers to look to other crops or value added products to earn a living.

In his address at the retreat's opening ceremony Friday, Patterson indicated that his administration sees tremendous growth potential in the agricultural industry and plans to give attention to the sector as a whole.

"There has been a tendency for many countries, as they move into new areas, to turn their backs on agriculture. We do not intend to do so in Jamaica, bearing in mind the need for us to be able to feed ourselves, the possibilities which will flow as a result of expansion in the tourist industry and the whole question of how do we stem rural migration. We therefore have to put agriculture, very much, in a sounder position," Patterson said.