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Cane fires burn industry

Published:Thursday | January 16, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Christopher Serju, Gleaner Writer

Chairman of the All-Island Jamaica Cane Farmers' Association (AIJCFA), Allan Rickards, has welcomed as long overdue, the announcement by Agriculture Minister Roger Clarke yesterday, that he will be seeking the help of the Jamaica Defence Force to arrest the illicit burning of sugar which is costing farmers and sugar factories millions of dollars in losses each year.

"We have requested that for years," he told The Gleaner after the signing of an agreement between the AIJCFA and Pan Caribbean Sugar Company for the sale of sugar and molasses on behalf of its contract farmers.

The signing took place at the ministry's Hope Gardens office in St Andrew.

Clarke said yesterday that cane fires are costly and put the industry at risk.

"We have some difficulties out there which we must work to overcome, not the least of which is the illicit burning of cane. It is wreaking havoc, especially at Frome. Millions have been lost over the years, and one would have hoped that there would be a cessation," the minister, who is a cane farmer, told stakeholders in the sugar industry.

"I'll be having a word with the prime minister, who is the person in charge of the army, to see how we could deploy some resources to deal with that age-old problem," Clarke said.

boots on the ground

He added: "It cannot continue and it is in the interest of all concerned - farmers, contractors, the workers, because it is forcing the factory to reap cane or to grind cane that's sometimes not even mature," he said.

Meanwhile, Rickards has called for an on-the-ground presence of soldiers during crop time, to deter would-be delinquents.

"People play games, they burn cane for various reasons, usually to skew the harvesting system, to have certain areas harvest before others," he said.

Ambassador Derick Heaven, chief executive officer of the Sugar Industry Authority, said the cane burnt is usually immature and so yields poor quality juice which in turn affects the eventual payment.

In some instances, he said, the cane cannot be reaped because it is done when the factory is not in operation.

"It is a very, very serious issue," he declared.