Thu | Apr 2, 2020

Sugar production set to fall 20%

Published:Tuesday | December 17, 2019 | 12:24 AMMark Titus/Gleaner Writer
A sugar cane cutter works in the cane fields at Duckenfield in St Thomas in this Gleaner photo.

The 2019-2020 sugar crop year got off to an early start when Chinese producers Pan Caribbean Sugar Company (PCSC) started production on November 28.

PCSC, Appleton and Worthy Park Estates have projected a combined 48,000 tonnes of the sweetener for the new season, falling by 20 per cent from 59,000 in 2018-2019. Of this amount, the Chinese firm is expected to produce 16,000 tonnes from 200,000 tonnes of cane, while Appleton is projecting nine tonnes.

However, Worthy Park Estates in St Catherine, the standard of efficiency in sugar production over the years, is looking to produce some 23,000 tonnes of the commodity.

“The estimate is for 200,000 tonnes of cane,” said Marc Wong, a spokesperson for the Chinese-owned PCSC. His firm is responsible for some 140,000 tonnes of the raw material to be used in production, while the farmers are expected to provide the remainder.

“It’s a good start for Pan Caribbean. They have already produce some 2,000 tonnes since they started,” said Allan Rickards, immediate past chairman of the All-Island Jamaica Cane Farmers Association. “It is early days yet, but the moisture level of the sugar is very good.

“They don’t have as much cane as they would like, but that is because the morale level of the cane farmers is very low, but that can all change if the farmers are certain that there are plans for a sustainable future.”

Westmoreland’s Frome, once the largest sugar factory in the region, is now down to a 60,000-tonne capacity after a US$100-million refurbishing exercise in 2015, but the day-to-day operations have been plagued by a myriad of challenges, including illicit cane fires and a drastic reduction in cutters during harvesting,

‘Tough time’ for sugar producers

Local stakeholders have publicly criticised PCSC, especially after Frome’s failures to maximise its capacity, but Liu Chaoyu is adamant that it is not only a Pan Caribbean problem.

“It is a big challenge for sugar producers, not only in Jamaica, but also globally – a very tough time,” Liu, the PCSC CEO, said in a recent interview. “We would like this project to prosper, but the sugar industry environment has changed. We are in a very bad cycle.”

“We are struggling because the black market is so bad here in Jamaica. It is affecting every sugar producer, and the Government must do a better job to combat this situation,” she continued.

“I am hoping that all three factories – ourselves, Appleton Estate and Worthy Park – will combine our resources to combat the situation.”