Sugar researchers on the edge

Letters to the Editor

Sugar researchers on the edge

Monday, June 24, 2019

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Dear Editor,

There is no secret that the Jamaica sugar industry is dying, and some may say the industry is actually in the burial stage. But regardless of what phrase is used, we all know that the Jamaica's sugar industry is long past its glory days.

Farmers are slowly switching to what they think are more profitable crops and currently only three factories are operational — Appleton, that focuses mainly on rum production; Frome, that is yet to focus on co-generation; and Worthy Park, that focuses on sugar but has other profitable entities. Only time will tell when there will be no sugar-centric factories remaining in Jamaica.

While the sugar industry slowly dies it will take many casualties with it.

When Appleton downsized their operation in St Elizabeth in 2018 over 200 people were left unemployed. The announcement of the closure of the Seprod-owned factory in St Thomas this year will leave another 150 unemployed. So, with closure and downsizing the sugar industry is pumping a lot of unemployed individuals in the society.

More people will be unemployed soon, specifically the researchers and scientists that work at the Sugar Industry Authority – Research Division (SIA-RD) located in Mandeville. The SIA-RD was established in 1976 under the auspices of the SIA with responsibility for research and developing methods to improve agricultural technology as it relates to sugar cane. Employed the SIA-RD are scientists that are tasked with determining cost of producing sugar cane, testing of agricultural machinery, developing new cane varieties, promoting safe use of herbicides and pesticides, pest and disease management, irrigation, technical services, agronomy, etc.

As a past employee at the SIA-RD, known as the Sugar Industry Research Institute, then my fellow scientists have worked assiduously in their respective areas to ensure that the sugar industry remained afloat. There is a high probability that these scientists are the next casualties of the dying sugar industry.

The SIA-RD is funded by a five per cent cess on local sugar sales. With a shrinking industry this levy has also decreased. This is of importance to the remaining staff of the SIA-RD as the facility is on the brink of closure. Closing of such research facility would mean that many qualified and highly experienced individuals will be without a job. The SIA-RD gets no funding from the Government and it is time for them to step in.

The future of the SIA-RD lies in the hand of the Government. STEM-related jobs are usually glorified by the Government; however, there are not many places for these people to work in Jamaica.

The minister needs to meet with the SIA to ensure the longevity of the SIA-RD. Or will the Government cause such a noble institution to fall to the wayside?



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