Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, Hon. Roger Clarke, said that $3 billion will be provided to sugar cane farmers over the next four years as part of a massive industry replanting and modernisation exercise.
The intent is to boost cane production by some 800,000 tonnes, by increasing the amount of land under cultivation to 20,000 hectares, up from 12,000 hectares.
The funds, being provided under the European Union (EU)-supported Cane Expansion Fund will be provided on a revolving basis to plant and replant cane, supply land preparation and harvesting equipment, and support installation of sub-surface drip irrigation in Clarendon and St. Catherine.
Already $1.4 billion has been expended to bolster the ongoing cane planting and replanting exercise.
The Minister, who was speaking at the Annual General Meeting of the All-Island Jamaica Cane Farmers’ Association at the Jamaica Pegasus in New Kingston, contended that the once booming sugar cane industry has the potential to return to its heyday. “Today the potential is there, the opportunities are there, and we must grab those opportunities,” he stated.
He noted, however, that the industry must be put in a position that will enable its sustainability long after the EU support has ended. “As much as we are reveling now because the price (of sugar) is good, we must understand that the opportunities that we now enjoy with the help of the European Union will not be there forever…we want, at the end of the EU programme, even if there is a slight reduction, we would have been so efficient that we can continue into the future,” he stated.
He said the cane farmers association has a key role in ensuring that the industry thrives. “This association is critical if the sugar industry is to survive, because all told, these guys in the industry…indicate that production is going to move in such a way that the farmers might be producing more than the estates in short order,” he said.
The Cane Expansion Fund was set up by the Ministry’s Sugar Transformation Unit to provide additional funding to support increased cane production to a minimum of 3.5 million tonnes, and to enhance the productivity and efficiency in the sugarcane subsector.
The revolving fund offers low interest loans of five per cent to farmers and contractors for the planting and replanting of sugar cane; land clearing; the purchase of cultivation and harvesting equipment and drip irrigation.
It was established through agreement between the Government of Jamaica and the EU, under the latter’s Budget Support to the Sugar Sector Programme.
The $9 billion programme aims to improve the competitiveness of the sugar sector, while at the same time, strengthening social resilience in sugar-dependent areas affected by the transformation of the industry.