The Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries has disbursed grants totaling some $51 million, to approximately 300 ex-sugar workers who have been displaced by the restructuring of the local industry.
The grants form part of the Government’s Economic Mitigation Programme for Displaced Sugar Workers, to be funded over the next five years by a $2.1 billion provision, which was negotiated by the Government with, industry stakeholders and the European Union (EU).
Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, Hon. Dr. Christopher Tufton, says the programme is to assist in mitigating the fallout to affected workers, consequent on the EU reforming their sugar regime over the last five years. The reforms resulted in a 30 per cent reduction in EU member states’ payments to Jamaica for sugar.
Agriculture and Fisheries Minister, Hon. Dr. Christopher Tufton (left), makes a presentation to Kerry-Ann Gayle, one of 300 displaced sugar workers, who have received grants totalling $170,000 each, under the $2.1 billion European Union-funded Sugar Workers Economic Support Programme. The programme, which will benefit from 4,600 persons, was launched on Wednesday (March 10) at the Bernard Lodge Sugar Estate, St. Catherine.
A total of $800 million has been earmarked for grant allocations to some 4,600 displaced workers, with each individual to receive a $170,000 grant to engage in a related activity. The programme was officially launched at the Bernard Lodge Sugar Estate Sports Club in St. Catherine on Wednesday (March 10).
In his address, Dr. Tufton said the administration had embarked on the initiative in a bid to enhance the industry’s sustainability, by seeking to grow better quality cane and using it to produce a range of crops and by-products.
He pointed out that, when combined, these efforts would make growing sugar cane viable, and allow for a return. He said that the government had to take some tough decisions, including adjusting the number of people working on the estates.
Agriculture and Fisheries Minister, Hon. Dr. Christopher Tufton (right), converses with Chairman, Sugar Industry Authority, Ambassador Derrick Heaven, during Wednesday’s (March 10) launch of the $2.1 billion European Union-funded Sugar Workers Economic Support Programme, at the Bernard Lodge Sugar Estate, St. Catherine.
“You can’t have 7,128 persons producing just over 100 tonnes of sugar. It doesn’t work that way in any other sugar growing area and it is too expensive. You can only do that if Europe was going to guarantee you a price and a market, and they are no longer doing that,” he said.
Consequent on this, Dr. Tufton said the administration moved to put together an adaptation strategy, in collaboration with the EU and other sector interests and stakeholders locally. A key element of the strategy was the provision of support to displaced stakeholders.
The Minister argued that the displacements doesn’t mean that opportunities don’t exist in the areas where sugar cane will continue to grow.
He pointed out that in addition to the $800 million earmarked for economic restructuring and assistance to these individuals, $10 million is to be spent on social programmes aimed at enhancing the infrastructure of the communities in the sugar cane belt, such as community centres and schools.
Another $10 million, he added, will focus on environmental issues, to ensure that there is a sustainable environment for growing sugar cane.
Dr. Tufton informed that several agencies will assist displaced workers in their undertakings. These include: the Social Development Commission (SDC), HEART Trust/NTA, credit unions and banks, along with other stakeholders such as political representatives and civic leaders.
The Agriculture Minister urged beneficiaries to recognize that despite their no longer being employed in the industry, they are still part of the communities where sugar cane production remains integral, and stood to benefit.
“We are trying to ensure that the industry remains, (and) is expanded, so it continues to generate and expand economic opportunities in those communities, and therefore, provide benefits for your communities and directly for yourselves,” he said.
Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, Mr. Donovan Stanberry, said that another 300 grants are being earmarked for delivery this year, with an additional 2,500 slated to be disbursed in 2011.