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Cane cutters in short supply

Published:Sunday | July 16, 2017 | 12:00 AMChristopher Serju
A cane cutter at work in the fields.

As the regional sugar cane industry braces for life after October when the European Union (EU) lifts the quota restriction on beet sugar production, Jamaica is struggling with a serious shortage of manual labourers - specifically cane cutters.

"We are going to be supplying CARICOM instead of the EU because the price (of cane sugar) there is depressed and is likely to be more depressed after October when they lift the quota on production of beet (sugar) and they can produce all they want. Europe is going to become a net exporter of refined beet sugar on the world market. So there will be less demand for our sugar and therefore the price is going to go down," Karl James, chairman of the Sugar Association of the Caribbean, told The Gleaner.

Jamaica and other major regional producers such as Belize and Guyana are already positioning themselves to shift exports to other non-sugar producing states in the region, as well as the United States of America. While there is no refining of sugar in the region, Jamaica's annual consumption in excess of 70,000 tonnes, combined with the 50,000 tonnes of raw (brown) sugar alone, present vast economic opportunities.




Jamaica's recent implementation of mandatory packaging and labelling has opened the door to more value added by way of customised packets for the tourism sector, where sachets for the condiment packages used in hotels are, for the most part, imported. However, while this potential economic boom is cause to celebrate, Allan Rickards, chairman of the All-Island Jamaica Cane Farmers Association, has said that the shortage of cane cutters could stymie progress.

"The islandwide situation is one in which there is a chronic and acute shortage of cane cutters. We do not have enough cane cutters. The fact of the matter is, it is not something that is sustainable. The harvesting problem that we have is the single most important problem that we have to overcome," Rickards told The Gleaner.