Mark Titus, Gleaner Writer
Sixth-form students at the Mannings School in Westmoreland blasted successive governments for their failure to properly manage the local sugar industry, which is now facing an uncertain future. However, they were divided over whether or not its viability can be restored.
The students who hail from various sugarcane-growing communities in the parish aired their views about the aged and ailing industry and possible alternatives, at a youth forum organised by The Gleaner and Island Grill. Speaking on the topic, "Do you see a future in sugar ... ? Would you consider sports and music as worthwhile endeavours to pursue in light of the uncertainties surrounding sugar cane production in Jamaica? the student point to the many and varied deficiencies that have impacted the industry.
"I don't think that the leaders we have today can take the industry to where we want to see it," said Shane Heaven, "They are poor leaders ... they are not paying enough attention and they don't realise the potential that the sugar industry still has.
"One of the biggest issues the government faces is inefficiency and they are not necessarily the best managers of the industry. They made the right step, however, in divesting because the private sector will exploit it for maximum profit," added Heaven.
Unlike Heaven, Chris Parchment was wary of the future of the sugar industry and painted a gloomy picture of the sector, which is the primary source of income for many families in the western Jamaica.
Lost its value
"The soil has been tilled for almost 400 years and it has now lost its value ... we will never get to where we were in sugar again," Parchment stated. "The only thing that is keeping the sugar industry is the spin-off such as rum.
"The sad thing is that most of the persons involved in sugar in Westmoreland are not at the academic level to move on from the industry," added Parchment.
However, the students generally agreed that the privatisation of the sector in 2009 might eventually be the saving grace for the thousands of sugar workers who would be affected if the sugar industry should die.
"Successive governments have been afraid to do what is necessary to make the industry viable, choosing to support their party, they hesitate (to make the right decisions)," said Candish Bright. "... but with the industry now privatised, the new owners will not be afraid to make decisions, necessary to make profit."
In the divestment deal, the Golden Grove factory in St Thomas was sold for US$500,000 (J$44.5m) to Seprod, the government pocketed J$135.5 million for Long Pond and Hampden Estates, in Trelawny, which is now owned by Everglades Farm; while COMPLANT, through its Jamaican subsidiary, Pan-Caribbean Sugar Company, acquired Frome, Bernard Lodge and Monymusk factories for more than J$700 million.
Twila Wheelal was strident in her arguments and critical of government's failure to capitalise on mechanisation, which she feels would have given the industry a better chance to succeed,
"The government was wrong not to mechanise the sector," Wheelal said. " They were more focused on providing employment for supporters, while the benefits of such a decision was completely ignored.
"As the government, they must be cognisant that the country needs money. Jamaica needs to move away from the agrarian mindset and look more towards industrialisation."