Sugar factory enjoys smooth operations but cane still short
Dalton Laing, Gleaner Writer
The state-owned Frome Sugar Factory in Westmoreland is reportedly enjoying one of the smoothest periods of operation in as many years, but the yield of sugar is projected to be below its potential nonetheless.
Eric Clarke, president of the Westmoreland Chamber of Commerce, has attributed the reduction in yield to the smaller volumes of sugar cane reaching the factory daily.
"Frome has the potential to handle up to a hundred tonnes of cane daily, but it is only receiving 40," said Clarke, who added that not enough arable land was being used to produce cane.
"A large amount of arable land has been sold out and is being used for residential purposes," he said.
He explained that while there was a need for housing solutions, it was equally important for adequate lands to be available for planting of sugar cane, in a bid to keep the industry viable.
The Westmoreland Chamber of Commerce president was speaking at the Seastar Inn in Negril during The Gleaner Editors' Forum geared at unearthing the concerns of Westmoreland and looking at possible solutions.
Clarke believes that special agricultural funding should be secured to push the planting of more cane, but Stuart Barnes, branch manager of National Commercial Bank in Savanna-la-Mar, offered no hope that funding for farming practices were readily available.
"The challenge for finances for agriculture is the risk of the outcome. It is difficult to borrow and survive in agriculture," Barnes said.
The bank executive said it would be more prudent to access government financing through grants, which would allow persons to rebuild and expand before going for commercial funding.
In a subsequent telephone interview, councillor for the Frome Division Paul Wilson expressed doubts regarding the 2010 sugar crop at Frome.
He argued that his calculations were pointing to a 30 per cent reduction in cane quality and a 20 per cent reduction in quantity.
"I don't see any enormous improvement in this crop to overtake the deficit already being experienced," said Councillor Wilson.
"I don't see the factory making the 43,000 tonnes of sugar that it is projected to yield this year."
He also expressed concerns about the direct impact that the more than 700 job cuts has on the socio-economic landscape in the sugar belt. He said that already there was poor attendance in schools, an increase in malnutrition especially among children and compromised living conditions.
Additionally, Councillor Wilson mentioned that persons were behind with their mortgages and on motor vehicle loans payments because "half of the payroll had been sucked out of circulation"