Dispelling the myths by Frances Chandler,

My New Year’s resolution was not to “sin my soul” but I would have to become a recluse to achieve that.  I have no axe to grind. I own no agricultural land, but I’m a Barbadian who knows the importance of agriculture and would hate to see it destroyed.  So, my blood boils when I see both foolish and unfair statements about the sugar industry and about agriculture in general reported  in various sections of the media.  

First, my question  to the  moderator who says he doesn’t like agriculture.  “What do you eat? Synthetic meals produced in a laboratory or foods originating from agriculture?” Then my response to the person who declared sugar cane wasn’t attractive to tourists and even  bush would be preferable. As I recall, he suggested  planting  tobacco and cotton.  Doesn’t he know that  tobacco was among the earliest crops grown in Barbados and was discontinued because the quality was  poor?

The  poor quality was  because  the growing conditions weren’t right , with  sea spray causing it to “crackle” when lit. I assume that’s why, in Trinidad, which is much  larger than Barbados ,  tobacco was produced  in the central part of the island. Apart from the fact  that it would seem foolhardy to grow tobacco, considering its effect on human health, tobacco  is an annual plant  requiring soil cultivation each year .This  would encourage soil erosion. Similarly cotton, although a valuable crop , is also an annual , so while our Sea island Cotton industry could develop if it were allowed to, cotton certainly couldn’t totally replace cane.  Furthermore, if one considers the state  of the cotton industry, replacing  cane  with it would be like “swapping a duppy for a dead”.

While the sugar cane picture is always clouded by  continued emphasis on slavery, there’s no doubt that sugar built Barbados and the true sequence of events  must be documented.  Peter Webster’s article entitled “History , His Story and Twistory” in the last Sunday Sun should be compulsory reading for all Barbadians, but I will  add my two cents worth, since, as he quotes Joseph Goebbels “if fiction is repeated long enough it becomes fact ” so we must  dispel the myths  being perpetuated.

To the person who asked Patrick Bethell  to account for the “subsidies” to the industry over the last twenty five years let’s get it clear that government is just giving back a part of what they took away from the industry over the years  for use in public projects. The importance of “saving for a rainy day” was recognised, so a levy, over and above  taxes, was put on sugar production  and the proceeds put in a fund  to  stabilise prices and improve factory and field operations. Unfortunately, these funds, ( $ 116 million between 1947 and 1979)  were  used by government  for  reasons  unrelated to the industry . I can’t think of any other industry on which  this “money grab” was inflicted.

But  the most disappointing statement came from our Prime Minister. He noted that the payment to the industry was no longer an issue, yet the saga which has continued  for months hasn’t yet been concluded. It seems he’s jumped on the Sandiford-Garner “non -issue bandwagon” . He also  laid  blame for the present state of the industry squarely on mismanagement by the private sector and said that government was “in the dock” although it was only involved since 1992 and asked where those in charge from the 1600s to 1992 were. Peter Webster dealt  with that issue well.  Admittedly,  not all management “dropped out of heaven”,  but the main fault of the owners, in my opinion,  was not representing themselves more aggressively in the past.

The Prime Minister also stated that the private sector hadn’t put forward  an alternative plan . One of our experienced moderators echoed this . An alternative  which would’ve cost a fraction of what is now being proposed, and wouldn’t have involved any “finder’s fee”, was in fact put forward. This would’ve accommodated the gradual  building of  acreage  to  produce a number of  marketable products (not including shipment of bulk sugar to the UK) but it wasn’t entertained.

Finally,  I doubt whether any of the 51 persons running this country could manage the sugar industry,  but I’m sure  one or two in the industry could run the country.

Dr. Chandler is a former independent senator. E mail: fchandler@caribsurf.com

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