Allan Rickards, chairman of the All-Island Jamaica Cane Farmers Association, has welcomed the more than $404 million to be spent on fixing cane roads in six parishes as a well-needed and practical infrastructural investment, describing it as a common-sense, holistic approach.
During a signing ceremony at Hope Gardens in St Andrew last Tuesday, Agriculture Minister Roger Clarke gave a breakdown of the contracts that will see cane roads in Westmoreland, Trelawny, St Elizabeth, Clarendon, St Catherine and St Thomas being repaired with money from the European Union (EU) as part of its Accompanying Measures for Sugar programme.
Roads fixed annually
Each year, minor repairs are done to the roads ahead of the harvesting, in anticipation of the increased traffic and weight of loaded cane trucks.
Rickards is optimistic that this time around the repairs will be more lasting and beneficial to the sugar-dependent communities.
"The whole purpose of this is that these roads with appropriate drainage and shaping, as opposed to the marl, the cosmetic work that takes place every year, will be there for some time to come and benefit the communities, even outside of crop time." Rickards, who cultivates cane in Trelawny, told The Sunday Gleaner afterwards. "We're really looking forward to it."
Meanwhile, Jesus Baguena, chargé d'affaires of the delegation of the EU in Jamaica, told those present at the ceremony that the EU recognises that for sugar workers and their families the sweetener represents much more than a commodity traded on the world market, resonating as it does well beyond the boundaries of the cane fields.
He said that, in designing its sugar support programme, the EU took into account the potential of the industry as a vehicle to transform lives through employment and educational opportunities for rural farming communities.
"The human capital of these sugar-producing communities remains critical to the industry and agricultural sector, and no development can be sustainable if it is not equitable - if progress leaves people behind," Baguena declared.
"The support of rural development and infrastructure is critical as Jamaica moves forward with its economic reform programme, and it will see improvements in food security and facilitate import substitution as the nation seeks to lower its import bill."