Long Pond’s fate to be decided on Monday - Sugar factory closure could ruin several dependent communities
Worried sugar stakeholders in Clarks Town and surrounding communities in Trelawny should know on Monday whether or not the Long Pond Sugar Factory will be participating in the 2015-2016 crop year, as Agriculture Minister Derrick Kellier is expected to make a statement on the issue.
Should the factory not participate in sugar production this year, which is widely feared, more than 1,000 sugar workers - 200 at the factories, 600 field hands and approximately 270 independent suppliers - could find themselves unemployed.
"This would be a disaster for Clarks Town, the hundreds of workers, and the farmers who have borrowed money to plant cane for the new crop year," said Allan Rickards, chairman of the All-Island Jamaica Cane Farmers' Association (AIJCFA).
While informed sources have told The Gleaner that the operators of the factory are in a financial bind, Rickards said he was quite positive that whatever is happening has nothing to do with the performance of the factory.
"Whatever the reasons are, it cannot be for the performance of the factory, because Long Pond was among the most efficient performers for the just-concluded season," said Rickards.
In 2012-2013 crop year, which came on the heels of the 20-tonne capacity facility being upgraded to international standards at a cost of J$2 billion, the factory was selected as the Most Improved Sugar Factory in Jamaica, by the Jamaica Association of Sugar Technologists.
Following the 2009 government divestment of the factory to the Hussey family-owned Everglades Farms, the factory produced a mere 1,400 tonnes of sugar, its worst yield ever. That prompted the owners to close the factory in 2010-2011, during which major refurbishing was done.
In regards to the current uncertainties for this year, Andrew Hussey, chief executive officer of Everglades Farms, told The Gleaner in August that, with Jamaica no longer benefiting from preferential treatment on the global stage, they were concerned about possible low sugar prices on the international market.
"We are very concerned about the prospect of very low sugar prices for the next crop, hence we are reviewing all options going forward," Hussey told The Gleaner. " ... Once our evaluation is complete, in about two weeks, we will update more."
Hussey's comments were immediately rubbished by several leading players in the sugar sector, who pointed to the factory's accumulation of "massive debt" as the reason for the indecision. The Government subsequently stepped in, placing a gag order on public comments from entities associated with the local sugar sector.
But, while the Government is contemplating its next move, especially with a general election pending, there is growing anxiety among residents and business operators in Trelawny, who are now praying that a workable solution will be arrived at.
"If Long Pond is closed, it will be devastating for Clarks Town and the surrounding districts because most people depend on it, not just to go there to work, but businesses depend on the workers to come and shop," said prominent businessman Dennis Seivwright, a past president of the Trelawny Chamber of Commerce.
"This (Long Pond) has been here for centuries, and the people depend on it being operational, but I also believe, in fact, I am convinced that there is going to be a time when there will be no Long Pond, no sugar factory and the sooner we wake up to the reality and seek alternative use for the facility, the better," added Seivwright, who is a former councillor for the Clarks Town division in the Trelawny Parish Council.