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Rickards wants Pan Caribbean sugar lands leased to farmers

Published:Wednesday | April 6, 2016 | 4:00 AMTameka Gordon

Chairman of the All-Island Jamaica Cane Farmers Association (AIJCFA) Allan Rickards, wants some 2,000 hectares of sugar cane lands in Clarendon held by Pan Caribbean Sugar Company to be leased to farmers.

Rickards charged that since the Chinese investor has failed to put most of the lands into production, with animals now grazing there, leasing it to the farmers will help to boost cane output.

The Chinese firm is a subsidiary of COMPLANT International, which purchased Frome, Monymusk and Bernard Lodge sugar estates for US$9 million from the Jamaican Government a deal that gave it rights to some cane lands.

However: "They have done little planting or maintenance for the last two crops," Rickards said of Pan Caribbean's operation at a Gleaner Editors'

Forum last Wednesday.

Leasing the lands to local farmers would therefore "remove from them, the expense and the responsibility of managing these farms," he said.

"In fact, they are in agreement with it," the AIJCFA chairman asserted. "It will be an agreement between Pan Caribbean and the Government as part of their survival plan to remove the loss centre from them," said Rickards, hinting at ongoing negotiations.

"One of the steps being taken at Monymusk to alleviate the loss situation for Pan Caribbean is the divestment of the lands for farmers to grow the cane and produce it not the factory," Rickards said.

He, however, called for the lands to be leased on similarly favourable terms that were accorded to the Chinese by the Jamaican Government, which Rickards indicated included duty and consumption tax waivers.

The forum, which discussed the prospects for sugar given the pending closure of Clarendon-based Monymusk at the end of this sugar crop, also included Ambassador Derick Heaven, board member of the Sugar Industry Authority; Karl James, general manager of Jamaica Cane Products Sales; and cane farmer Kenneth Newman.

Jamaica produced around 134,000 tonnes of sugar in the 2015 crop year, down from about 148,000 tonnes in 2014.

Belize tops Jamaica in sugar production, which, Heaven noted, is done through a single factory of equal size to the Frome plant in Westmoreland. That country produced around 142,000 tonnes of the sweetener in 2015.

"There has to be an economic context in which the industry can thrive something like incentives given to Pan Caribbean" to invest in Jamaica, Rickards added.

Should an arrangement be reached, however, Rickards said the sugar lands would need careful management to avoid falling back into current problems of mismanagement.

Instead of distributing property through co-operatives, the Government should do deals with private entrepreneurs, he suggested.

"We have to ensure that this is not a land grab. We have to ensure that lands are not fragmented but gives good farmers an opportunity to grow more cane."

The framework to support private take-up should come with incentives such as the removal of General Consumption Tax on farming inputs, including equipment and fertilisers, Rickards said.

"The incentives that they must receive must at least be the same as the Chinese received in terms of what they can do, what they don't have to pay GCT on, and what they can import duty- free," he said.

tameka.gordon@gleanerjm.com