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Cane farmers bemoans king sugar

Published:Tuesday | May 17, 2016 | 12:00 AMChristopher Thomas
The Hampden Sugar Factory, located on the Trelawny-St James border, was once the hub of economic activities for resident in East Central St James. Today, it has all but gone quiet except for rum production.

Since the downsizing of Hampden Sugar Estate, located on the St James-Trelawny border, the economic life in surrounding communities has changed from buoyant to burdensome.

The estate, once a leading sugar producer, has been restructured by its new owners, Everglade Farms Limited. It now operates only as a rum distillery, producing the award-winning Rum Fire brand.

Whereas the estate's owner must be basking in the international success of Rum Fire, residents in the neighbouring communities of Dumfries, Canaan, Adelphi and Somerton are bemoaning the demise of sugar.

Josephine Hemmings of Content district said that in former times, Hampden was the lifeblood of her district, a popular sugar community.

"All this piece of land you see here, all of it used to be under cane but, now, nobody plants anything," said Hemmings. "Hampden was the lifeblood for this community and many people cultivated cane in those times."

"I was a registered farmer and I planted cane but, now, the estate has closed. The factory has shut down and that is why I do not have cane again," explained Hemmings. "When it closed down, I could not afford to send the cane to Long Pond and Frome and all those places."

According to Hemmings, having depended on sugar for so many years, the new situation has left many cane farmers in a quandary, not knowing where to turn to find another source of income.

Earl Buchanan, a ground-provision farmer of Chatham district, believes mismanagement led to the closure of Hampden Estate, which, in turn, has led to the decline in the economic fortunes of communities such as Adelphi.

"Hampden has built this community. It has helped people in more than one way, and it was because of hustling (through Hampden) why people were able to build houses," said Buchanan. "Hampden should not go but mismanagement, in any business, is a downfall, and I think it was because of mismanagement why certain things faltered.

"We need to get back to where we were because if we are not productive, we cannot be economically viable," continue Buchanan. "The rum at Hampden is normally being exported, and I think the estate can be much more active."

The Hampden Estate, part of a historic tradition of sugar manufacturing in Jamaica, was previously owned by the Farquharson family. It subsequently came under government ownership, but was divested to the Hussey family-owned Everglade Farms in 2009.