Christopher Serju, Gleaner Writer
LLUIDAS VALE, St Catherine: CHAIRMAN AND managing director of the Worthy Park Estate Ltd, Peter D. McConnell, has hit out against the Government's plan to use more of the Caymanas Estates land in St Catherine for housing development, describing it as misguided.
He told The Gleaner: "I say to them, why do you want to develop land that is already in production and earning foreign exchange for the country? Why don't you go and do your development on idle lands?" Pointing out that there is a lot of idle land running alongside the new highway in the parish, McConnell insisted, "It just doesn't make any sense."
Worthy Park Estates cultivates sugar cane on 500 hectares of land at Caymanas to supplement the crop reaped from land at their factory at Lluidas Vale and land leased in Bog Walk also in the parish. However, even with the cane grown by contract farmers, the company is only able to process at most some 180,000 tonnes of cane per year. This is well shy of the estimated 300,000 tonnes of cane required to give its operation maximum throughput efficiency of producing 30,000 tonnes of sugar for a year. Having produced only 21,000 tonnes of cane last year, the factory is well off the mark, having last hit 24,000 tonnes some 12 years ago, according to McConnell.
Worthy Park had been negotiating with the former People's National Party (PNP) administration to lease sugar lands at Inswood, but with full divestment of the country's cane assets, that parcel went to Complant.
Speaking during a tour of the Worthy Park Estate by Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries Roger Clarke on Thursday, McConnell recalled the disappointment of that deal falling through. The failure to get a long-term lease of the land has also hampered efforts to raise productivity.
"We were hoping that we would have got Inswood but that didn't come to pass. In the meantime, we have been able to lease Caymanas but on a very ad hoc basis - a year-by-year lease which does not allow me to do the necessary spend on the infrastructure to really get the yields up to their full potential," he explained.
According to McConnell, the company has already doubled the output at that site and could still do better but for the failure to get some security of tenure. He believes this is linked to the housing development earmarked for the area and is set against the utilisation of prime productive farmland for this purpose.
"I am totally against that because we have so much land right on the highway that can be put into all these uses that they are talking about. Why in the name of God would they want to take land that is producing and put it into something else when you have this mass of idle land which can be used for the same purpose?