Trinidad: Sour end for sugar

Trinidad Express,
Thursday, May 24th 2007
Ariti Jankie South Bureau

The last bundles of sugarcane will be delivered today at the Usine Ste Madeleine factory, bringing an end to this year’s harvest and signalling the death of the State-run sugar industry in Trinidad.
The end is also coming on a sour note: a 30,000 tonne shortfall in sugar cane.
Farmers were expected to reap 450,000 tonnes of cane. This was later scaled back to a target of 400,000 tonnes.
Up to yesterday, the State-run Sugar Manufacturing Company Limited had bought 350,000 tonnes of cane. It is expected to buy only another 20,000 tonnes today.
Farmers said yesterday they were hit hard by a high percentage of canes burnt in unplanned fires and further losses due to a severe labour shortage which left several tonnes of cane unreaped and spoilt.
SMCL acting chief executive officer, Ken Marshall, said it was not a good crop.
“There was not enough cane supplied,” he said, adding there was too much stale cane with very little sugar content.
Balram Ramdial, former president of the Direct Delivery Farmers Group, said the crop started late, February 12, and a number of fields were burnt, many because of the harsh dry season.
“Farmers were unable to harvest the burnt cane due to labour shortages and have suffered huge losses,” he said.
All the sugar produced from the cane delivered to SMCL was for export. On March 25, the company shipped 10,500 tonnes of sugar to the European Union. A second shipment of 9,100 tonnes left the factory on April 25. SMCL hopes to mill a further 7,000 tonnes of sugar for the last shipment.
The quota to the EU was 43,000 tonnes of raw sugar, but the SMCL had been challenged to find freight space to ship this year’s sugar. The next shipment is due to leave in June.
The death knell of the State-run sugar industry was sounded when Government withdrew its support earlier this year. It is expected to pay a lumpsum to private farmers in a soft landing agreement to cushion the pain of the industry’s end.
An inter-ministerial committee was set up to find an exit strategy and has been looking at proposals submitted by five farmers’ organisations. A meeting has been set for June 1. Farmers expect a lumpsum settlement of $1.6 billion.
Farmers received a first payment of $115 a tonne this season.
Last year, 6,000 farmers cultivated sugarcane on 35,000 acres of private land.

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