Sat | Sep 23, 2017

Long Pond cane farmers embrace government's intervention

Published:Tuesday | April 12, 2016 | 4:00 AMMark Titus
The Long Sugar Factory in Trelawny.

Despite an announcement that the Government plans to operate the Long Pond Sugar Estate, Trelawny, for at least three months in the current crop year, sugar cane stakeholders in the parish are still unhappy as there is a fear that the initiative is a "stopgap" measure aimed at masking the inevitable - the closure of the facility

Two Thursdays ago, Minister of Industry, Commerce and Agriculture Karl Samuda announced that the new Andrew Holness-led Government was looking at operating the Clarke's Town-based factory and another privately owned factory to ensure that sugar cane that is now in the field gets reaped.

"That is just a stopgap measure," said former president of the Trelawny Chamber of Commerce, Dennis Seivwright, who has some amount of expertise in sugar cane cultivation. "The history of Long Pond tells us that, when this kind of thing happens, it is devastating for Clarke's Town and surrounding districts because most of the people depend on sugar cane."

END IN SIGHT

Seivwright, who is renowned for his no-nonsense stance on issues affecting Trelawny, said he had long come to the realisation, based on the signs he had been seeing over recent years, that there was going to be a time when Long Pond would cease operations.

"I have said it repeatedly, that there is going to be a time when there is no Long Pond, no sugar factory, and the sooner we wake up to the reality and seek alternative use of the facility, the better it will be," stated Seivwright, who once served as councillor for the Clarke's Town division in the Trelawny Parish Council.

The factory, which was divested to the Hussey family-owned Everglades Farm Limited in the 2009 government divestment, is supported by 270 independent farmers and, during peak operations, employed approximately 800 persons, 200 at the factory and 600 in the fields.

After a successful 2014/15 crop year, the management of Everglades announced that the factory would not be participating in the 2015-16 crop year, sending shock waves across Trelawny, especially among cane farmers, many of whom had borrowed money to finance the replanting of their crop.

At a recent meeting of the Long Pond Harvesting Committee, Samuel Thomas, the deputy chairman of the Trelawny and St James Cane Growers' Association, said that while he was elated that the Government had come to the rescue of cane farmers in the region, he was somewhat wary of the State getting back in sugar cane production.

"If they had not made the decision, it would be a disaster, but being only for three months, I support the move," said Thomas.

Following the 2009 divestment, Everglades Farms produced a mere 1,400 tonnes of sugar, the worst yield in the factory's history. However, after a major J$2-billion retooling of the 20-tonnes capacity factory in 2010-11, the factory was selected as the 'Most Improved' sugar factory in Jamaica by the Jamaica Association of Sugar Technologists in 2012-13.

Based on the recent stance taken by the current Government, some sector players in the sugar industry are of the view that the previous Government should have acted similarly.

Last year, Andrew Hussey, the chief executive officer of Everglades Farms, told The Gleaner that with Jamaica no longer benefiting from the preferential treatment of former years on the global stage, there were genuine concerns about the sustainability of sugar going forward.