Frome tells students about impact of cane fires
THE Frome Sugar Factory has started a programme to bring home to students the negative impact illicit cane fires were having on the sugar industry, especially in their communities.
The factory recently began an outreach programme in 12 schools in the parish, with an expectation that the students will help influence other community members to desist from setting cane fields ablaze.
The programme was prompted by the frequency of illicit sugar cane fires throughout the parish, which relies heavily on the industry.
According to Frome’s cane farmers’ manager, Victor Drum, the factory this crop year lost $30 million as a result of illegal cane fires and the problem has showed no signs of abating. He said there have been 800 illicit cane fires at the factory since the start of the 2000/2001 crop. These fires, he said, have affected more than 200,000 tonnes of canes.
“These illicit fires are a very big problem and it will need the input from every single individual to combat it,” said Drum.
He added that an estimated 60 per cent of the fires were generated for economic reasons, 30 per cent due to reprisal while 10 per cent were related to other reasons such as bush fires that got out of control.
But chief executive officer of the Sugar Company of Jamaica, Derrick Heaven, disagreed with Drum’s figures and maintained that there was no conclusive evidence to back up the factory manager’s statements. According to Heaven, most of the people involved in the burning of the cane are players in the industry. He described them as “mortal enemies of the sugar industry”.
“These people range from farmers, to the people who are contracted by farmers or to the estates, and the workers who want it to cut,” said Heaven.
Heaven maintained that among the SCJ factories, Frome has been the hardest hit by illicit fires.
“Frome has a history and culture of burning canes to get back at authority,” he added.
But regardless of the reason for the fires, the damage they inflict has now spread to other sectors of the parish.
According to assistant manager at the Savanna-la-Mar branch of the National Commercial Bank, Devon Bunsie, some of his customers are now struggling to service their loans as a result of losses induced by the fires.
“This is affecting them in a very adverse way as their profit margins have been cut. They have not been able to pay their loans on a timely basis,” said Bunsie.
But he promised that the branch would continue to lend money to farmers who have been affected by illicit fires.