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Chickens have come home to roost - Rickards

Published:Thursday | September 1, 2016 | 12:00 AMChristopher Thomas
Allan Rickards

Western Bureau:

Allan Rickards, the chairman of the All-Island Jamaica Cane Farmers Association (AIJCFA), is of the view that ultimately, the divestment of the local sugar industry will bring to the forefront the need for adequate arrangements to regulate the sector.

Addressing a recent Gleaner Editors' Forum in Savanna-la-Mar, Westmoreland, Rickards noted that after years of operating in an inept way, sector players are now forced to relinquish old ways and embrace more progressive ideas.

"Finally, the chickens have come home to roost, and we have been forced to face certain things," said Rickards, in noting that shipping sugar to Europe and looking to live off the profit until the next crop is no longer a viable option.

With the returns from sugar steadily decreasing, last year, approximately 120 small cane farmers in Westmoreland walked away from the sugar industry, citing the difficulty of seeking to survive in the sector.

In recent times, the cane farmers have had challenges such as reductions in earnings, cultural issues with the Chinese owners of the Frome sugar factory, poor sugar quality, and the perennial issue of illicit cane fires.


Get more proactive with industry


In issuing a stern warning to local sugar interests, Rickards cautioned that the sugar industry should not be shut down but that the Government and the private sector should instead get more proactive in the industry's management.

"Unlike any other industry, the sugar industry is not one on which you can close the door without opening another," said Rickards.

"Whereas $50 million remedial help in coffee can do some good, $50 million can do no good in the sugar industry."

According to Rickards, even for political survival alone, Government must contemplate a future for the sugar industry.

He also noted that the private sector needed to step up to the plate in terms of actually running the industry, leaving Government only with a regulatory role.

Ambassador Derrick Heaven, who is a former executive chairman of the Sugar Industry Authority, said the new regime has its positives as in addition to forcing sector players to come up with marketing strategies, it has reignited the debate about diversifying the industry.

"There have been some adjustments that are now being contemplated about marketing, but hitherto, were not being contemplated at all," said Heaven, a respected voice in sugar globally.

"Now, there is a mindset to look not just about the marketing of bulk sugar, but also to ask, 'Am I going to make ethanol? Am I going to produce electricity?'"