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Cane farmers want review of Long Pond divestment

BY MARK CUMMINGS Senior Staff reporter cummingsm@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, July 14, 2010    

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MONTEGO BAY, St James — The All Island Jamaica Cane Farmers' Association has called on the Government to review the agreement under which the Long Pond/ Hampden Sugar Estate packages were divested to Everglades Farms Limited.

"It is our understanding that among the criteria (for any divestment) was a proven capacity to manage, as well as the ability to operate an entity, such as the sugar industry. But now, it has become clear that these new owners are manifestly unable to meet these basic requirements," said Allan Rickards, the association's chairman.

Among the major shortcomings of the new owners, Rickards alleged, is a total disregard for the cane farmers, and a contempt for the need to supply timely and adequate information, or to enter into any meaningful discussion of matters which directly affect them.

"The contempt is evidenced by the fact that this association, as well as the local farmers organisations, as indeed the individual farmers, are being informed of the closure for an entire crop of the Long Pond factory, by way of a recent news story in the Observer," he argued.

The Long Pond Sugar Factory was last July sold to Everglades Farms Limited, which also leased the vast cane lands in the vicinity of the plant for 50 years, as well as the cane lands in the Hampden area, under the government's sugar divestment programme.

Just over a week ago, the Observer reported that the factory will be closed for one year to facilitate a multimillion-dollar repair job on the defective boilers at the facility.

The defective boilers at the plant have been cited as a major contributing factor in the factory's poor performance during the recently concluded sugar crop.

During the season, Long Pond produced roughly 1,400 tonnes of sugar from the manufacturing of 34,847 tonnes of canes.

Rickards charged Monday that the level of production at Long Pond is "unacceptable" and has threatened to cease the supply of farmers' canes to the factory.

"We have declared our intention to register with other factories not only for the next crop, but on a permanent basis," he told the Observer.

Meanwhile, a mass meeting will be held at the Duanvale community centre on Thursday to discuss issues affecting the local sugar sector.

According to Rickards, the issues to be discussed include:

* outstanding second payments due to cane farmers who have supplied canes to the Long Pond factory;

* the difficulties being faced by the farmers in harvesting their canes; and

* measures that should be put in place to take off the farmers' canes during the next crop when the Long Pond factory is closed.

"Overriding all of this is the farmers' concern over the management, and the style of the new owners of the factory which is one in which there is no consultation and a lack of information," added Rickards.

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