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Farmers to suffer most from multi-million dollar illicit cane fires

Published:Monday | February 2, 2015 | 4:21 PMMark Titus


DELROY ARMSTRONG, the senior assistant to Hong Han, chairman and acting CEO of the Chinese-owned Pan Caribbean Sugar Company (PCSC), has said local farmers are the ones most likely to be affected by last weekend's burning of approximately 1,650 acres of cane, valued at over $200 million, by arsonists in Westmoreland.

"It is our local farmers that are likely to feel it most adversely," said Armstrong in reference to the fire, which was lit by irate residents protesting an alleged altercation between a resident and the police in the Little London community.

While the canes that were burnt by the arsonists were not at the mature stage for reaping, the PCSC is still accepting the canes in a bid to minimise the losses to farmers.

Under normal reaping conditions, the estate would not accept canes that are delivered to the factory more than 72 hours after being burnt. However, because of the vast acreage burnt by the arsonists and the difficulty in meeting the 72-hour window, the factory has decided to bend the rules to facilitate delivery of cane beyond the normal time.


Next season's crop


According to Cleveland Keddo, chairman of the Westmoreland and Hanover Cane Farmers Association, who lost more than 200 acres of cane from his property during the protest, the action of the residents will also affect next season's crop.

"This affects the livelihood of the very people who are a part of the protests," said a distraught Keddo. "This sort of behaviour cannot continue because even now the condition of some of the fields does not allow for immediate replanting in preparation for 2015-2016."

During the official launch of the 2014-15 crop year last week Thursday at Frome, Xiaojun Dong, the Chinese ambassador to Jamaica, called for a community approach to deal with illicit cane fires, which have been a perennial problem in Westmoreland.

"We must collectively solve the challenge of cane fires," Xiaojun Dong said. "We must cooperate to rid ourselves of that pest, we have to get the Government, country leaders and residents to understand that this problem cannot continue."