Seprod the only sweetness in St Thomas
Even as some residents of St Thomas bash Seprod over the soot from its Golden Grove Sugar Factory, many are wary that their criticism could cause the factory to close.
The residents are aware that the sugar factory is one of the few games in town in terms of employment and earning potential, so they want the problem fixed rather than Seprod mothballing the plant.
Golden Grove Sugar Factory, the Serge Island Dairy, and the Serge Island Farm, which are all owned by Seprod, combine to provide direct and indirect employment for well over a 1,000 persons in the parish, and CEO of the Seprod Group, Richard Pandohie, says that it is only because of the possible devastating social impact that the sugar factory remains open.
According to Pandohie, he has a fondness for St Thomas, having spent a number of his childhood years in Seaforth in the parish, and that has also been a consideration in Seprod keeping the sugar factory open despite registering close to $4 billion in losses since it was acquired from the Government in 2009.
"The Golden Grove Sugar Factory has been a disastrous investment by the company," Pandohie told The Sunday Gleaner.
"The only reason why it wasn't closed is because we took the social impact into consideration, and so we decided to try to do everything we can to reduce the factory to a reasonable loss.
"If the factory was to close, the farmers in St Thomas don't have anywhere to transport the cane to. So staying open is almost like a corporate-social programme and is a commitment to the people of St Thomas," added Pandohie.
He said that despite Seprod getting the go-ahead to sell and distribute its own sugar last year, the factory still recorded losses of $450 million, mainly due to the major drought in 2015, which affected sugar cane supply.
"We are cautiously optimistic that with the rains that we had last year, and the cane growth that we have seen, and improvements in the factory, our losses will be substantially reduced, but we are going to have losses nonetheless," Pandohie said.
"But in the meantime, we are working very hard. We are now the Jamaican company exporting sugar wider than everybody else. I have people on the ground in every country, so we are actually growing the sugar industry and looking for market externally.
"So it is not all doom and gloom, but it is a long road back. Those losses will never be recovered, but if we can get the factory to be in a position where we think it can almost hold its own, then we think the benefit to St Thomas is very much worth it," added Pandohie.
The Seprod boss charged that it appears as if St Thomas is a forgotten parish, with Seprod currently its epicentre, creating jobs, providing ambulance services, making water available during droughts, and giving scholarships and internships to students.
"Without Serge and Golden Grove, the implications to the communities, and not just St Thomas, but Portland, would be quite immense," argued Pandohie.