Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Heavy rains delay sugar crop

By Leah Mathura-Dookhoo


The sugar cane season, which was supposed to begin yesterday, has been put on hold for another week, owing to bad weather and floods over the past month.

Yesterday, CEO of the Sugar Manufacturing Company Ltd (SMCL) Andre Guyadeen said the situation is worse than in years past, as fields are now saturated with water.

Guyadeen said while next Monday has been set for the start of the crop season by the SMCL, officials from the Sugar Industry Team (SIT) are monitoring the situation.

“This weather had caused us a lot of losses, but we are hoping we will make up for it in April,” Guyadeen said.

He refused to state the monetary extent of those losses.

Guyadeen said staffers, farmers and contractors were gearing up for a bumper season yesterday morning, however the heavy floods in central and south Trinidad lead to the postponement.

“The ground could take no more water. We are hopeful that things will get better next week,” he said.

Public relations officer of the Trinidad Islandwide Cane Farmers Association (TICFA) Lallan Rajaram, said yesterday that he too was disappointed over the delay in the start of the crop as farmers were the ones losing out financially.

Rajaram explained that even though the season did not start on its stipulated date, transport contractors and SMCL employees were protected by a guarantee agreement which will see them receive their monthly salaries.

But this is not the same for farmers.

“The last time a farmer got a cheque from SMCL was in August. With that money he had to take care of this family, his crop and his equipment. So, you see the problems they are in,” Rajaram said.

“Cane farmers have been waiting for the longest while for the start of the season, now with changing weather patterns they have to wait longer. The whole thing about sugar is that it needs dry weather.”

Rajaram remains doubtful that the season will begin in the next two weeks.

He said it was because of this TICFA submitted a written proposal to Agriculture Minister Jarrette Narine on Wednesday calling for an increase in the price of cane per tonne.

He said this was done in an effort to assist farmers who have suffered great losses since the beginning of the year.

But, Rajaram said when the issue was brought up during a meeting on Friday with SIT led by Wayne Innis, his members were told that they were not aware that a proposal had been handed in for an increase in the price of cane.

Rajaram said while SMCL’s target for the year is 600,000 tonnes of canes which will produce 60,000 tonnes of sugar, he is doubtful that it will materialise.

“We have never reached that goal and with all the problems we’re having I don’t think it will happen.”

Realistically, he said, for 2006, farmers can produce 45,000 tonnes of sugar from 450,000 tonnes of cane.

At present, cane farmers receive $180 per tonne for canes sold to the SMCL. They are now calling for $218.

Meanwhile, president general of the All Trinidad Sugar and General Workers Trade Union, (ATSGWTU), Rudranath Indarsingh said the failure of the crop to begin came as no surprise, since the industry is run by a group of energy experts who have no background in agriculture.