Letters to the Editor

Harvesting sugar cane is hard work; pay us!

Friday, September 21, 2018

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Dear Editor,

It is common knowledge worldwide that farmers get the lowest prices and the middleman and retailers make the most profits.

Jamaica's sugar cane farmers must be at the top of the list for being shafted, and mostly at the doing of government agencies and their bungling. It is no small wonder factories are closing, cane lands are being returned to the Government, and farmers large and small are going out of business.

We are now at the latter part of September and the second payment for our sugar is still not paid, and the powers that be cannot tell the farmers when and how much they will be getting paid.

In former years, farmers could expect to receive their second payment no later than one month after the crop finished. Those were the days when Jamaica got preferential prices in Europe and substantial exports were made to other markets. Once the ship sailed with the sugar on board, money was in the coffers in Jamaica to be paid to the hard-working farmers who grew the sugar cane.

Now that most of our sugar is being sold locally Jamaica Cane Products Sales (JCPS) says we cannot be paid until the sugar is sold. So why is it not sold and still sitting in the warehouse on Marcus Garvey Drive?

The government agency responsible to sell local sugar says we are competing with white sugar illegally reaching the retail shelves and a private, local sugar producer has undersold their sugar preventing the “pooled” sugar to be sold. Are these really the reasons for this fiasco or are these just excuses for poor marketing and planning?

It is also common knowledge that all is not fair in this life — and there seems no better place for unfairness than in the Jamaican sugar industry.

Here's the situation: Harvesting sugar cane is very hard work. It is very labour-intensive, involving many employees from all walks of life. It is very equipment-intensive as well; from tractors to trailers to cane loaders to cane trucks, the equipment involved is usually old and decrepit because we simply cannot afford to buy new vehicles. So every day we face frustrations galore out in the broiling sun or pouring rain just to get the cane reaped and delivered to the factory so that we can stay in business.

Then, after weeks of waiting, we hear that we are unable to be paid because the sugar is still not sold. Meanwhile, there are umpteen people on the payroll of at least five government agencies (there may be more) connected to the sugar industry whose salaries are derived from the cess deducted from farmers' proceeds and they go home with a pay cheque every month, come rain or shine.

So, while these people are enjoying the fruits of our labour, we starve.

On top of all this, the unions have negotiated a nine per cent wage increase over two years for all sugar employees. Where will the funds come from to pay higher wages when our revenues are shrinking by the minute?

The Government should assume full responsibility for the failure of JCPS given that:

• Farmers have had no other option up to now other than JCPS to market their product.

• JCPS has not adapted to the changing realities of the Jamaican sugar market. This entity was created when Jamaica was producing six times more than it is producing now. The Government should have realised for over a decade that JCPS was obsolete. They did nothing to avert this crisis.

• The situation for sugar farmers last year was already marginal, and now because of the failure of JCPS to sell off this year's inventory, payments to farmers could fall another 25 per cent, which could be catastrophic.

• A significant number of people are still employed in the sugar industry. If the industry folds, there will be major disruptions islandwide.

The bottom line to all of the above is:

1. The Government needs to subsidise the clearing of the current sugar inventory so farmers can get paid.

2. Immediately wind up JCPS.

Anyone with even a smidge of common sense can see that growing cane in Jamaica under the current conditions is a recipe for bankruptcy. What else can we grow on our prime farm lands? Time longer than rope... but rope finish!

Deborah Jaggan

Manager

Cambria Farms

dejaggan@hotmail.com

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