Christopher Serju, Gleaner Writer
JESUS ORUS Baguena, head of the delegation, European Union (EU), has charged Jamaicans to recognise the invaluable contribution of thousands of Jamaicans who have toiled over many decades, and those who continue to work in the sugar cane fields and factories today. It is this approach, he says, which informed the EU's long-standing and solid relationship with the country.
"It was of vital importance that as we moved the sugar industry and Jamaican forward, that those who have toiled to develop the industry, historically, were not left behind. Sustainable development does not leave people behind - development is not sustainable if is not equitable," he said last Thursday. "The human capital of these sugar-producing communities remain critical to the industry and the wider agricultural sector, and the people must be supported."
The EU is, in fact, the largest grant contributor to Jamaican agriculture, with its sugar programme only part of a larger programme of development cooperation with Jamaica. The overall assistance programme runs from 2006-2015, with more than J$17.5 million earmarked for disbursement up to the end of this year.
The eight-year aid scheme, known as the Accompanying Measures for Sugar Protocol Countries, took effect in 2006, in the wake of reform of the EU Sugar Regime, resulting in Jamaica and other countries losing their preferential status. This development forced EU Sugar Protocol countries to introduce measures to improve the competitiveness of their sugarcane sectors in the global market and to mitigate the negative economic and social impact of the reform.
According to Baguena, the programme would have failed its objectives if it did not cater to the needs of people affected by restructuring and shown gratitude to those whose work had allowed the sugar industry to thrive.
He was speaking at the contract signing for the construction of two housing settlements for sugar workers in St Thomas.
"It is critical to the EU that in designing these sugar support programmes we not only see the endurance of a competitive sugar industry but the survival, continued success of, and investment in the people who produce this valuable commodity.
"You all know how important sugar is to local communities and the wider parish of St Thomas, and we understand that to the people of the industry it is not just a commodity sold on the world market but a livelihood," he insisted.