The last sweet dance?
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CTA. 1999. The last sweet dance?. Spore 81. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
Permanent link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/10568/48416
Internet URL: http://spore.cta.int/images/stories/pdf/old/spore81.pdf
Crucial for export earnings and employment, the sugar industries of Fiji, Guyana, and Jamaica are facing hard times. Nevertheless, there is life still in the old soul of sugar, but it needs investment. As in Fiji and Guyana, sugar (total production...
Crucial for export earnings and employment, the sugar industries of Fiji, Guyana, and Jamaica are facing hard times. Nevertheless, there is life still in the old soul of sugar, but it needs investment. As in Fiji and Guyana, sugar (total production 186,000 t) plays an important role in the Jamaican economy. While each country produces less than 1% of world production, their foreign exchange earnings from sugar are crucial, accounting for more than half the agricultural exports. JamaicaÕs sugar, like Guyana's and Fiji's, is exported mainly to the United Kingdom and the United States, under preferential market access and price arrangements. Jamaica's sugar exports to the European Union are subject to a regular annual quota of 126,000 t (filled every year) plus a supplementary quota of 37,000 t (sometimes unfilled). Jamaica's sugar industry dates back 600 years. More lately, the country has become a major producer and exporter. But annual output levels are not stable; they declined from an all-time high of 514,000 t in 1965 to the current level of about 230,000 t. Eight factories operate on the island with a combined annual capacity for 325,000 t. Fiji's sugar industry, on the other hand, developed much later, dating back to the 19th century. It has four mills and produces 500,000 t. Unlike Jamaica and Guyana, it can take advantage of the structural sugar deficit in Asia as almost half its exports go to regional buyers like Japan, Singapore, South Korea, and Malaysia. Sugar means jobs. As in Fiji and Guyana, the Jamaican sugar industry is a major employer. It provides direct employment to 40,000 persons, including 16,000 self-employed small farmers and 4,000 factory workers. This accounts for 4.2% of the active working population. The industry also indirectly supports another 100,000 persons. This compares with direct employment of 30,000 workers in Guyana and 35,000 in Fiji, and indirect employment for twice as many people. While Jamaican sugar has declined over the past 20 years, that of Fiji and, recently, of Guyana has exhibited growth. Jamaica's decline can be attributed to several factors: reduction in area under cane cultivation, decline in yields, incidence of smut and rust diseases, poor agronomic practices, scarcity and high cost of inputs due to foreign exchange constraints, poor factory performance, unreliable transportation, and generally weak management in both field and factory. The industry has also gone through various ownership changes. In the early 1970s, following the withdrawal of foreign operators, ownership of the estates shifted from the private sector to the government. An experiment with cooperative management of field operations at the three largest publicly owned estates ended in 1981. In 1994, publicly owned factories were sold to private companies. The lands were leased partly to the new owners and the rest to cane farmers. At the same time, government regulation and control of the industry, particularly marketing, were relaxed. Sugar output showed some improvement, but the new owners could not finance factory modernisation and to service accumulated debts. Once again, the government was forced to take control of the industry. In Guyana, the factories are government-owned, but they have been managed by the British firm Booker Tate since 1990. The major problem facing Fiji's sugar industry is the expiry of more than 1,000 cane land leases. As a result, essential investments have been postponed, and yields could remain low in the coming years. Sugar plays a pivotal role in the economy of several countries and any disruption will have a tremendous impact on their entire economies. In Jamaica, the replacement of sugar by tourism, for example, has been advocated, but no other industry could provide the same level of employment to the large semiliterate and unskilled labour force. Operating with low skills, low productivity, and poorly maintained and managed factories, the industry is partly seen as a social necessity. The challenge is to modernise production, and to increase efficiency and productivity. Otherwise the industry will die, as it will not be able to compete under the changing conditions expected early in the new millennium. Modernisation will lower production costs and improve field practices. The former requires re-tooling and the latter, re-training. The changing world market carries many implications: the World Trade Organisation, post-Lomé arrangements between the ACP countries and the EU, and the need to be more competitive in a world dominated by market forces. The choice is to die soon or to invest in a slimmer, more productive future. But invest with what?