Water woes hit cane farmers hard
The slow pace of Government's procurement process, which includes getting approval from the National Contracts Committee (NCC), is at the root of the situation under which some Clarendon farmers have already lost millions of dollars, and are set to lose more, with hundreds of acres of cane dying in the fields due to lack of irrigation.
"The MOU, in truth, was, in fact, for six months initially because we had plans in place to put in our own independent (irrigation) system. The reality is that the contracting process dragged out much longer than we were expecting to procure our own pump and motor," John Gayle, chief executive officer of SCJ Holdings, told The Gleaner.
He continued: "We've got approval from the NCC to procure the equipment. We've procured it. It is being installed now, and we are hopeful that in another three to four weeks, they'll be independent. Sadly, there were no May rains because I was saying that would give them a break, but May was dry, so they (cane farmers) ended up suffering because had we had some May rains, it would tide them over until we get the pump running."
The memorandum of understanding (MOU) to which Gayle refers is the six-month agreement signed by Pan Caribbean and SCJ Holdings in 2012 to supply cane farmers with irrigation water, with the understanding that the situation would be temporary in light of plans to get the Springfield pipeline up and running soon afterwards.
The MOU was never extended, and to date, the pump has not been installed.
Citing the lingering impact of the drought, Pan Caribbean opted to curtail its sale of water to contract farmers, citing its need of the now-scarce commodity for use on its own cane cultivation.
With a ratoon crop and cane dying in the fields, Granville Whitelocke of Springfield Clarendon appealed to SCJ Holdings and other stakeholders to prevail upon Pan Caribbean to keep the irrigation going in order to save his multimillion-dollar investment.
Gayle told The Gleaner that despite a written commitment from the company, as well as a verbal commitment from chairman, Hong Han, the Beauchamp Farms are still being starved of water.
This is despite a letter over the signature of Clive Smith, credit officer with the Sugar Industry Authority (SIA), and James Fearon, an extension officer with the All-Island Jamaica Cane Farmers Association (AIJCFA), who visited the property on Friday, May 1, attesting to the dismal state of Whitelocke's cane cultivation.
Despite this, the water was not provided, according to Whitelocke, who told The Gleaner: "About 70 acres of cane, including first ratoon, just dead. It was reaped in February. Me fertiliser it, mould it and it just dead."
Having already spent J$8 million, the veteran cane farmer had projected earnings of about J$16 million and was very upset with Pan Caribbean, accusing the company of wasting water and sabotaging him and other farmers.
Not so, said Delroy Armstrong, senior adviser to Han, in denying the allegation, pointing out that such a move would be counter-productive.
"The farmers sell their cane to us and we are in the business of making sugar. Why would we just cut off the water maliciously? How would we benefit from that?"
The fact of the matter, he explained, is that the company had extended itself well beyond the MOU time frame in supplying the farmers with water but not that it was planting more cane, the water was needed to service its own crop.
"We are expanding our production, plus we a suffer from drought, so based on the amount of water that we have, the frequency with which them get it just no possibly, any more," Armstrong disclosed.