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: firstname.lastname@example.org