Gov't, cane farmers to meet over troubled Long Pond
The Government is to meet with the All-Island Jamaica Cane Farmers Association (AIJCFA) to discuss concerns regarding the future of cane farmers operating in the Trelawny sugar belt, following the announcement that the Long Pond Sugar Factory will not be operating for the 2016-17 crop year.
"The situation at Long Pond is not good; not an ideal situation," said Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries Karl Samuda while addressing the 79th annual conference of the Jamaica Association of Sugar Technologists, held at the Riu Hotel in St Ann on Thursday. "We would have hoped that at the end of the crop, the owners would be working to fight with us to get an investor to partner with them.
"We were hoping that we would have a financial arrangement worked out so that we could look forward to the opening of the Long Pond factory, but it now appears it is not likely to take place," he continued.
As a result, the Government will be providing financial support for the transportation of 50,000 tonnes of the raw material from the Clark's Town, Trelawny, facility to Worthy Park in St Catherine at an estimated cost of $50 million.
"We are not prepared as a Government to go back into the ownership and production, but we are prepared to support to the fullest extent all activities to create jobs and to keep our cane farmers working. It's a good business decision [because] assets that can be very useful for the growth and development of our country, we want to [be] maintained in the best possible condition, and abandoning cane field and factories is not the route to take," said Samuda.
The Government, through SCJ Holdings Ltd, had to take over operations of the Long Pond Sugar Factory during the 2015-16 season, saving hundreds of jobs in the process, after owners, Everglades Farm, opted to close the factory for the crop year.
Speaking with The Gleaner after the presentation, both Samuda and Allan Rickards, chairman of AIJCFA, said a meeting to discuss the long-term future of cane and sugar production in the area was inevitable.
Said Rickards: "The minister has tried, and I cannot pretend that I don't know that he has tried. I know the conversations that he has been having and I also know the difficulties and the intransigence of the owners, but in the long term, we as leaders will have to work with it, while looking at the long-term alternatives because there are hundreds of lives that will be affected."