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Sugar shortage worries merchants, shoppers

Published:Wednesday | July 20, 2011 | 12:00 AM

Gary Spaulding, Senior Gleaner Writer

Jamaica's traditional sweetener is being married off to other products on the market, bringing back somewhat sour memories of the days of scarcity in the 1970s when just about every edible thing, and some that were not, were wedded together.

The Government says the shortage of sugar has come about because Jamaica has been forced to export approximately 70 per cent of its produce under a previous arrangement.

Former agriculture minister, Dr Christopher Tufton, who now has portfolio responsibility for investment, industry and commerce, under which exports and imports fall, confirmed that sugar was in short supply.

Tufton disclosed that Tate and Lyle, the British-based multinational agri-business firm, has been scooping away the bulk of the sugar that is produced in Jamaica.

"In the current sugar quota, we have an obligation for 100,000 tonnes to Tate & Lyle, as they financed our sugar crop," revealed Tufton.

Checks by The Gleaner with several wholesale grocers in downtown Kingston have revealed that many of the wholesale stores in that commercial district have been woefully short on sugar.

Running out

One merchant told The Gleaner that some of his colleagues were able to allot "one or two pounds", depending on what they have.

"Even that is on the decline because everyone is running out," said George, a merchant. "It is the first in a long time I have seen sugar in short supply for so long. If my supplier had, I would get even half bag of the product," he added.

But it is in the Second City that the déjà vu has been activated. Consumers in Montego Bay have been leaving a well-known establishment on St James Street, marvelling that they have to purchase in excess of $1,000 worth of groceries before they can take home two pounds of sugar.

According to Tufton, it is estimated that the local sugar-cane industry will produce between 135 to 140,000 tonnes this year.

"We consume about 60,000 tonnes, so there is a shortfall of about 20,000 or so."

Tufton, having moved to another ministry, said he was unaware of the scheduling programme.

Repeated attempts to contact new Agriculture Minister Robert Montague, and chairman of the All-Island Cane Farmers' Association, Allan Rickards, failed.