Be cautious about trying to replace sugar - Rickards
With sugar steadily losing the great appeal it had in the era of preferential treatment in the European market, there is now a suggestion that the time might be right for sugar interests to turn their backs on that sector and look to other crops for their survival.
However, speaking at a recent Gleaner Editors' Forum in Westmoreland, Allan Rickards, the chairman of the All-Island Jamaica Cane Farmers' Association, said cane interests in Westmoreland should be cautious about turning their backs on cane for other crops, saying there are potential disadvantages.
"It (crop replacement) has to be looked upon with very great caution and by people with an understanding that in the height of the sugar crop, over $300 million comes out of the factory into the communities per fortnight, and every business person in this area, from Savanna-la-Mar to Grange Hill, could not survive without the sugar industry," said Rickards.
"People grow cane because the first payment takes care of your work and the crop ... , the second payment is for back to school and to pay whatever deductions you have, and the third payment is their Christmas money," said Rickards.
"In addition, they can grow cane and do other jobs elsewhere ... . Some people work in the civil service and grow cane."
By contrast, Rickards noted that there are a number of variables that would have to be taken into consideration if sugar was to be replaced by other types of crops that could do well in Westmoreland.
"One of the difficulties when contemplating any replacement for cane is this: finding a reliable crop that you do not have to go and look for a market - [with sugar cane,] the farmer does not have to find a market, and the factory takes it - and also a crop where praedial larceny will not drive the farmer crazy," said Rickards.
"In actual fact, rain or shine, breeze blow (storm) or otherwise, you are going to get a crop from cane, whereas that is not so with other crops."
In recent times, the sugar industry has been hit with several challenges to include a reduction in earnings, cultural issues with the Chinese owners of the Frome Sugar Factory, poor sugar quality, illicit cane fires, farmers walking away from the sector, and a lack of interest from the youth.
Speaking about the declining fortunes of sugar during another recent Gleaner Editors' Forum in Trelawny, Victor Wright, the member of parliament for North Trelawny, proposed the conversion of some of the sugar lands at the Hampden Estate in Trelawny to grow other crops in an agro-park setting.
Interestingly, within recent months, groups in Westmoreland, Hanover, and St James have been positioning themselves to become ganja farmers as they await the requisite changes to the existing laws, which would open the door to the establishment of a local ganja industry.