Sat | Jun 23, 2018

Bittersweet deal for cane farmers

Published:Saturday | January 5, 2013 | 12:00 AM
The poor state of the cane cultivated at Monymusk, one of three estates owned by the Chinese, has cane farmers puzzled. The crop has not been watered or fertilised.
Having lost an entire crop of seed cane, this farmer has elected to stockpile his and await replanting until the matter with Pan Caribbean Sugar has been resolved.

Christopher Serju, Gleaner Writer

SEVERAL cane farmers have been lamenting their loss of crop and financial investment due to an absence of water. The farmers are pointing their fingers at the Pan Caribbean Sugar Company, which operates the Monymusk sugar factory in that parish.

One farmer told The Gleaner of losing in excess of $600,000, money spent on clearing and tilling the acreage she had leased to go into sugar cultivation to supply the Monymusk sugar factory in Clarendon. Barbara Johnson explained that her decision not to plant her first crop of sugar cane after realising that the estate owners, Pan Caribbean Sugar Company, were likely to renege on the contract to supply water proved to be correct. She would have lost much more money spent on planting and fertilising the crop, the businesswoman reasons.

Veteran cane farmer Granville Whitelock, who also leases land adjoining the factory, was not fortunate, as he lost an entire crop of seed cane, most of which did not germinate for lack of water. He also paid for the water in advance.

Clive Vassell is one of some 20 contractors who, prior to the Chinese takeover of Monymusk, loaded and hauled cane to and on behalf of the factory; but they now find themselves out of work. Having being loaned $250,000 to repair his tractor, Vassell says he was advised three days before the December 3, 2012 start of the crop that the factory would not need his services.

Farmers concerned

He and other friends who received similar loan deals are now concerned that, with no guaranteed income, they will be unable to repay these loans and the company will seize their trucks and tractors after they default.

These stories are typical of the harrowing experiences recounted by cane farmers and other people who have had to do business with the Chinese investors who bought Bernard Lodge estate in St Catherine, Frome in Westmoreland and Monymusk in Clarendon. In addition, some have complained that the credit facility under which the estates usually advances money for replanting and input such as fertiliser has been put on hold.

Farmers vented their frustration at the recent All-Island Jamaica Cane Farmers' Association (AIJCFA) annual general meeting, demanding dual registration in order to bypass the long-standing arrangement with the Sugar Industry Authority (SIA) under which farmers in Clarendon, St Catherine and Westmoreland and Hanover are registered to sell their cane to Frome and Monymusk.

"If we are not getting a satisfactory response from them, then we are going to have to press for multiple registration where we can have the option, if it becomes necessary, to sell our canes to different factories. We are serious about it," one farmer insisted.

Meanwhile, Ambassador Derick Heaven, executive chairman of the SIA, has made a case for the Chinese to be allowed time to evaluate the longstanding practices between farmers and factories over the decades and decide if they want to continue with them.

He told The Gleaner, "If the Chinese were to come to Jamaica and do every thing along the lines that the former owners used to do, they wouldn't last too long. But it is in their interest to ensure that whatever changes, it is done in manner where people understand it and where it's not counterproductive."

However, Allan Rickards, chairman of the AIJCFA, believes that the new owners of the factory are being disingenuous.

"There is nothing we are demanding now that Pan Caribbean did not know in the minister's presentation at the signing of the agreement giving them the right to market their sugar. The minister (of agriculture) made it clear that they would have to sign a contract with the farmers," stated Rickards. "This was to put in place with the transparency that now obtains in terms of the marketing of sugar by Jamaica Cane Products Sales Limited."