MANDEVILLE, Manchester- Minister of Agriculture Roger Clarke has urged cane farmers to expand production and take advantage of the "phenomenal" prices that are now available on the market while satisfying the need for an increase in the growth of the crop.
"What we need is cane, cane and more cane," he said.
Speaking at a Sugar Transformation Review Seminar in Mandeville last week (October 4) Clarke said that through the Cane Expansion Fund the Ministry is supporting a massive planting and replanting exercise which is expected to take the farmers output to about 1.4 million tonnes from an approximately 500,000 tonnes that is planted currently.
"Our projection is to get cane farmers to increase production of cane by some 800,000 tonnes within the next four years, bringing their total area under cane to about 20,000 hectares from the current level of 12,000 hectares. This is a massive undertaking but we have done it before and the environment could not be better. The price projected for cane this current crop is close to $5000 per tonne. These phenomenal prices are expected to continue for another two years. I believe that this is the right time for you to expand cane production. If you can do it now, don't wait," he said.
To achieve the target, the Agriculture Minister said that the Cane Expansion Fund is expected to provide an estimated $3 billion to cane farmers over the next four years on a revolving basis.
The money should enable farmers to plant and replant cane, provide land preparation and harvesting equipment and support the installation of sub-surface drip irrigation in Clarendon and St Catherine.
He said that already a total of $1.2 billion is injected into the Fund, which does not include the investment that will be made in the rehabilitation of roads and drains in all of the cane growing areas.
Clarke told the packed audience at the Golf View Hotel that the sugar industry is one of the oldest continually operating industries in the agriculture sector. He said that it provides a large amount of the foreign exchange earnings by generating an estimated US $100,000 million a year, provides employment and contributes through social involvement in communities to areas such as education, health and sports.
He added, however, that over the years there have been a reduction in the cane yield and according to the technical experts at the Sugar Industry Research Institute, in order to get the full benefits of the time and money invested the output should not be lower than eighty tonnes per hectare.
Clarke said that it will require the input of all the stakeholders in the industry for the restructuring activities that will allow for favourable conditions to increase the growth of sugar cane.
"What we need is a relationship. In order to improve the policy environment within which producers operate a review of the structure of the Sugar Industry Authority and the Sugar Industry Research Institute is in high gear. Additionally, discussions are underway in respect of the product marketing and cane pricing arrangements of the industry. This situation where we were having these diverse marketing arrangements, diverse pricing arrangements and diverse (Trade) Union negotiations it can't work. I am heartened to know that good sense is returning to the table. The farmers need the manufacturers and the manufacturers need the farmers. We are all in this together. I believe we have the kind of ability to really make the thing work," he said.
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