Sweeten our sugar! Local producers told to perk up the product by 2016
Mark Titus, Gleaner Writer
With the scheduled abolition of the European Union quota system in 2016 expected to give every sugar-producing country the opportunity to vie for available supply deals, local players are being warned that the quality of the sweetener being produced must improve if the sector is to survive.
Jamaica is now in the last phase of a three-year deal with the British firm Tate and Lyle, which sees Jamaica getting close to US$894 per tonne for 50 to 60 tonnes of sugar each crop year.
After 2016, Jamaica will be looking to supply the lucrative domestic market, while competing with other sugar-producing nations for business in CARICOM.
But Robert Clarke of Worthy Park Estate Limited has warned local producers that getting into the CARICOM market will take work as Caribbean consumers are accustomed to good-quality brown sugar.
"I want you guys to know that these other countries in the Caribbean have been importing sugar from outside of CARICOM. They are importing from the United States, Colombia and Central America and are very used to consuming good-quality brown sugar," declared Clarke.
Contributing to a recent panel discussion on 'process control for standardising sugar quality' at the 77th annual conference of the Jamaica Association of Sugar Technologist in Ocho Rios, St Ann, Clarke issued another dire warning.
"Ladies and gentlemen, if we don't change our ways and start producing sugar of good quality this industry will die ... and not in a couple of years, our time limit is very short."
Karl James, the general manager of Jamaica Cane Product Sales, agreed on the need for change as he noted that the timing between the reaping and delivery of the cane to the factories is a point of concern.
"Some suppliers take as long as 72 hours, when it should ideally be 24 hours because stale cane does significantly affect the quality of sugar," said James during an interview with The Sunday Gleaner.
According to agricultural reviews for the 2013-2014 crop year, which was prepared by Derek Little of the Sugar Industry Research Institute, local sugar was being impacted by low sucrose quality.
"Low sucrose percentage, wet fields conditions during harvesting, illicit cane burning causing stale canes in some instances contributed to the low sucrose quality," stated Little in the review.
"In positioning the industry for increased cane production, the first task is to overcome the inconsistencies in cane supplies, and this will require commitment by growers to adhere to basic standard practices," added Little.
In 2004, the then Sugar Company of Jamaica was fined US$1.5 million by its American trading partners because of the "poor quality" of the sugar which was exported to that country.
That 2004 shipment of 2,500 tonnes of sugar was found to have too much dextran, an organism developed in stale cane or formed by the fermentation of sugar.
Although not harmful to humans, a count of over 250 units leads to a penalty for the producer based on the Sugar Marketing Supplies Protocol, which was developed out of the mutual interests of the refiners seeking reliable and predictable supplies of sugar.