Sugar industry needs to take stock, says Rickards
The chronic shortage of cane cutters has long been recognised as a major impediment to the sustainability of the sugar industry, but stakeholders have done very little more than talk about it, according to Allan Rickards, chairman of the All-Island Jamaica Cane Farmers Association.
"To our disgrace, this is something that we discussed with Roger (Roger Clarke, former agriculture minister) way back, nearly 10-15 years ago. I actually went to him one time to throw out the idea of importing cutters from Haiti, which is right next to us," Rickards told The Gleaner, even as he admitted that it would not have been practical.
"That would be fraught with all types of sociological problems, but that is how desperate we were. What it means is that this industry sat on its hands, including me, over that period, instead of trying to put suitable mechanical aids in place."
Rickards puts the blame for the declining importance of the industry squarely at the feet of key stakeholders like himself. He remembers a time when cattle, which were bred by the estates for drawling cane carts, would dominate agricultural shows. In addition, the estate cricket competitions were an ongoing talent pool for the regional competition, as well as the test arena.
"We are here talking about how important this industry is, but the industry itself is not behaving like it's important. I had a conversation with Dave Cameron (president of Cricket West Indies) the other day going to Barbados. Dave reminded me how many cricketers we used to contribute," Rickards said.
"We not doing what we used to do. We used to have a director of sports, we don't have it again. We [are] not behaving like we are important, we don't have no little pride in how we present ourselves, and it has to stop. Government can always give it a leg up, especially if you [are] going to get money back out of it, but government cannot give us a sense of pride and presentation to the community and the country as a whole."
He added, "We don't even have one decent website, for crying out loud. We are trying with one here at All Cane, but if a student calls and ask me to refer them to a website, where [can] I send them to? If they want to see a factory in operation, where [do] you take them to?"