Tue | May 23, 2017

Illicit cane fires hurting farmers

Published:Thursday | April 20, 2017 | 4:00 AMMark Titus

WESTERN BUREAU:

Cane farmers along the Westmoreland and Hanover sugar belt have all but thrown in the towel after Pan Caribbean Sugar Company (PCSC) was forced to bring a premature end to the 2016-2017

production at the Frome Sugar Factory due to the perennial problem of illicit cane fires.

"It is destroying our lives. We have tried everything. I am not sure what else can be done for these people to understand that it is our towns, businesses, and families that will suffer if something is not done (about these cane fires)," said Sidney Fray, chairman of the Westmoreland and Hanover Cane Farmers' Association, on Sunday.

"I will be totally honest with you. I do not know what we are going to do, and we are now seeing five or six fields being destroyed each day. One hundred and four thousand tonnes of cane from farmers is not enough support for a factory that is performing at the level that it is doing presently, and without the supply, they cannot make the sugar."

Frome, which was once the largest sugar factory in the region before being reduced to a 60,000-tonne capacity after a US$100 million refurbishing exercise two years ago, is now the primary production outlet for the Chinese-owned PCSC. However, it had to end the current crop after 93 days on March 17 after producing just 20,203 tonnes of sugar from 241,902 tonnes of cane. The figure is almost 8,000 tonnes short of its projected target.

 

SHARP REDUCTION

 

"This crop, we produced nearly 20,000 tons of sugar, which is less than our expectation. This is mainly due to the sharp reduction of cane production as a result of continued dry weather conditions and severe illicit fires across Westmoreland," said Liu Chaoyu, who heads the operations at Frome. "However, in this crop, our factory equipment is running rather smoothly and our sugar quality improved significantly, ranking at the top across the island, taking all quality indexes into account.

"I am very proud of our workers here at Frome for what they have achieved and am looking forward to their better performance next crop," added Liu Chaoyu, who has been credited with the improved relationship between the Chinese and local-sector players, since she took office just under five months ago.

Liu Chaoyu has heralded her firm's commitment to Jamaica, despite taking a massive $7.3 billion hit to its bottom line in 2015, mainly because of a $5.5 billion impairment loss at its other property in Monymusk. However, she is calling on the Government to do more to help combat the illegal burning of cane fields.

"My concern is that Pan Caribbean will not survive if the numerous incidents of illicit fires are not eliminated. If it is (being caused by) social problems, it cannot be solved just by Pan Caribbean. We need the Government to help us, to protect overseas investors," said Liu Chaoyu. "People must be caught and brought to justice. All these years, yet there is not a single incident, not a single record of a man who sets the fire being prosecuted."