Recently we have been rocked by news that the Chinese will be pulling out of the local sugar industry, needless to say that the news was not taken well. What we have been greeted with is the sugar industry demanding intervention and others saying let it rot and move on, I feel that both miss the point.
Yes the sugar industry is for the most part using techniques that are old to put it politely and yes they are still hugely labour intensive but it employs thousands and is part of what we are known for.
The sugar industry should seriously look at modernising it’s machinery and factories, that would cut down massively on costs and they should also look into mergers of estates, the days of many large estates is dead. They should also look into selling not bulk sugar but the niche market of exotic sugar, that avenue seems to have served the Bajan sugar industry well.
A strong focus on rum is also needed. To think that Jamaica can compete with Brazil or even Florida when it comes to bulk sugar is madness, but in rum we are first class. We have a market and a reputation so we wouldn’t have to heavily market ourselves and Jamaican sugar makes some of the best rum so the industry shouldn’t have major issues doing a transition.
However if the sugarcane industry is to remain a viable and significant player in Jamaica it needs to look beyond sweeteners. Biofuel is the way of the future for Jamaica and the sugarcane industry can bring us there.
If the industry were to seriously shift it’s focus from sweeteners to biofuels and pressure the government to only import cars that run on biofuels then that would not only be a breath of fresh air for the industry but also a serious easing of the public purse re oil and gas imports.
Sugar as it is done now is dead, and has been that way for years. Yes it has been a drag on the public purse at times and yes it harkens back to the bad old days of Jamaica’s history but those alone are not good enough reasons to make thousands redundant and shutdown what could be a profitable sector.
The cane industry can reshape itself and quite frankly it must if it is to see tomorrow. The things I have mentioned I feel would help save it, maybe not in it’s current form but in some way that would ensure a future for the industry, hopefully the persons in charge will see reason and acknowledge that while the jobs and industry must be saved, the industry as a whole must look within itself and come to an understanding of what it does, because bulk sugar is gone and it is not coming back.