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Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Christopher Tufton, has announced the establishment of a $400 million sugar cane expansion fund, to provide cane farmers with grant and loan funding, to assist them in improving the efficiency and productivity of their farms.
The fund, which will be administered by the Sugar Industry Authority (SIA), will place particular focus on improving the farms’ infrastructure, particularly irrigation and drainage, and is in keeping with the Ministry’s vision of expanding sugarcane production. The fund is expected to be in place by November.
Speaking at the All-Island Jamaica Cane Farmers Association 62nd Annual Conference, at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel in Kingston recently, Dr. Tufton noted that the fund also aims to facilitate farmers accessing “cheap money.”
“It’s five per cent (on repayments),which is very inexpensive money, to deal with some of those infrastructure improvements on their farms, because we need to get the yield up to 80 tonnes per hectare, so that you can compete in a marketplace that is changing and has changed, and will depend on efficiency improvement,” he informed.
Dr. Tufton added that as of November, farmers will be able to access funds, and invited those who need assistance to undertake the necessary antecedents and submit applications.
“I invite farmers to prepare themselves, conduct their assessment, and if you think you need loan and grant funds, to do that critical infrastructure work, then please contact the Sugar Industry Authority for more information on that, or the Ministry of Agriculture,” he urged.
The Minister also informed that the Government will, again, be seeking to source and import cheaper fertiliser.
“We are in discussions with two fertiliser suppliers, a short term arrangement, which is already concluded, and the order has been placed. We expect an arrival here, in a few weeks, out of North America, which will see 3,000 tonnes of fertiliser coming into the island, covering a range of blends, including blends for the cane farmer,” he said.
This, Dr. Tufton outlined, will see farmers benefitting from savings on purchases of those products. “In the more medium to longer term, as was announced a month or so ago, we are in the final stages of confirming the order from a company out of Europe, to supply 25,000 tonnes of fertiliser, that will arrive in the island, we hope, some time closer to the end of November, (or) early December. Those supplies, when they get here, will realise for all farmers, including cane farmers, more significant savings. We are committed to sourcing cheaper fertiliser and the cane farmers will benefit from that, as well as all farmers across Jamaica,” he informed.
Addressing the Association’s request for the removal of General Consumption Tax (GCT), on all farm equipment for the industry and a rebate on diesel fuel, Dr. Tufton advised that a position paper on these has already been developed.
“Representation was made by your leadership.which we are concerned about also. We know, for example, that approximately 50 per cent of your input cost is in diesel fuel… the purchase and use of diesel fuel. And if you were able to get an exemption from GCT, it would realise major savings for you. We have developed a position paper on both issues, GCT on equipment, and GCT on diesel fuel, and we have made our position clear in support of the concerns that you have placed on the table to the Ministry of Finance, and it is being considered by them,” he informed.
Turning to the issue of land availability, Dr. Tufton said that “the future requires more land for sugarcane, from all perspectives, both from the private farmer as well as from the large estates, and there is constant dialogue taking place in an attempt to identify suitable lands.”
“We are doing that now, and given where we want to go, and given the critical value-added products that we are looking at, ethanol being the critical one, but also including sugar, molasses, and so on, it’s going to be important for us to find those lands,” he said.
Dr. Tufton also pointed out that the Ministry is working very closely with the SIA and the National Land Agency (NLA), “to identify those lands, wherever they are, and to ensure that there is space on the landscape for the private cane farmers in order for them to meet their target of expanding their outputs.”