Tag Archives: Sugar

Bagasse: Some insights into the cause of the deterioration on storage

M. F. Armstrong for the 7th annual conference of the BSTA 1989

The conditions under which the factories work today require a higher fibre % cane or rather fibre demand. The greatest constraint here being the rate of supply of cane. If a factory is crushing at a rate of 75% of its “Available Grinding Time” (A.G.T.) and during the remaining 25% of its “A.G.T.” it is stopped due to “low steam,” the factory will have a higher “fibre demand.” This is a concept which I know will be difficult to accept. The storage of cane will lead to frequent factory stops which will again increase the fibre demand. The importance of bagasse is increasing from year to year.

The research we see in journals and in proceedings from external organisations is often in response to situations affecting these groups and reflects their inter est. It is apparent that we will be forced to continue to use bagasse as a fuel and we cannot afford to lose the supplies which we store between crops.

Bagasse: Some insights into the cause of the deterioration on storage pdf

H2K-IEC – Integrated Health Management for RSD control

This is the  second presentation in the ARVTU series,  as you may have noticed a theme.
Ratoon Stunting disease (RSD) is widespread in Barbados and can result in serious economic losses.

This presentation will give some background to RSD generally and specifically H2K-IEC method for controlling it.


Marble Amber – Somatic Embryogenesis for Disease-free Sugarcane

The is the first in a series of presentation  which were presented at the Agricultural Research and Variety Testing Unit’s recently concluded seminar.  Each of the presentation will be looking at technological solutions for solving existing problems in Barbados agriculture.

This presentation specifically looks at the use of somatic embryogenesis, a type of tissue culture, and a possible avenue for large scale production planting material free from Ratoon Stunting Disease a wide spread problem locally


A SWOT of Sugar by Peter Webster


More than 40 years ago one of our Caribbean political leaders declared that the sugar industry in the region was a “dead horse” and another expressed the wish to see the day when there was not a “cane blade” in Barbados.  The reality is that the sugar cane in particular, and agriculture in general, remains critical to the agro-industrial output of Barbados and has the potential to be a modern prop for our 21st century economy.

The contribution of agriculture to an economy is often undervalued since the agro-industrial activity related to the agriculture is seldom recognized.  An agro-industrial complex includes input manufacturing, distribution, marketing and supply together with the agricultural product storage handling, processing, transport, marketing and distribution.  In such a complex the agricultural or farm gate value itself is seldom more than 20% of the total market value.  The value added is four times that of the agriculture itself, but without the agriculture there can be no value added. Research has shown that a dollar spent in agriculture is recycled on average six times in an economy which is more than that in any other sector.  This is why the developed countries have no problem supporting and subsidizing their agriculture.


Barbados covers 166 square miles or just over 106,000 acres.  About 70,000 acres of this were formerly suitable for agriculture (arable) of which about 10,000 of those arable acres were in the Scotland district.  The other 36,000 acres were mostly “rab” land, swamps, coastal pastures and built on.

At the peak of the sugar industry in Barbados (1970) as much as 65,000 acres of the agricultural land were cultivated in sugar cane of which roughly 50,000 acres were harvested annually with the remaining 15,000 acres in food and other crops being rotated on fallow sugar cane lands.

Agricultural land has been the least expensive of all the land with development potential and therefore the target of developers and “changed in use” for building and other “development” purposes.  In 2007 a Town and Country Planning Department report indicated that, up to that time, change of use permission had been granted for about 30,000 acres of agricultural land leaving about 40,000 acres for agriculture.  This was misleading because several sub-divisions of agricultural land for small farms had not been counted as “changed in use” but had since become housing developments (Sandford, Rowans, Cottage, et al).

In any case, there was still about 30,000 acres of agricultural land available for agriculture at that time.

In 1971, the Government of Barbados approved legislation titled the Sugar Industry Act (1971) which gave it the power to surcharge/tax/huff all windfall profits in the industry and to legislate wage levels for the industry, both of which it subsequently did.  The tax of windfall profits in 1974 and 1981 amounted to more than $50 million (at a time when $1.00 could buy more than 10 times what it could buy today) and wage levels were increased by more than 100% in 10 years.

At the same time, the Government’s agricultural policy promoted crop diversification from sugar cane and the Ministry of Agriculture withdrew its support for the sugar industry.

Without the windfall profits, which had previously kept the industry alive, coupled with the increasingly high operating costs, all private investment in the industry dried up and by 1990, 26 of the sugar plantations were heavily indebted to the Barbados National Bank.

In 1992, the Government established the Barbados Agricultural Credit Trust (BACT), a state corporation, to which it transferred the huge sugar industry debt from the Barbados National Bank.  The Government also established the Barbados Agricultural Management Company (BAMC), another state corporation, to manage the industry.  BAMC subsequently leased the 26 “heavily indebted” plantations so that they could continue to cultivate them in sugar cane rotated with other crops.  BAMC also took over the management of the six sugar factories operating at the time.

Since then, the debts of 23 of the heavily indebted plantations have been cleared by the owners.  This leaves a residual debt that cannot justify the continued existence of BACT and in 2007 recommendations were made to the Government that BACT, which has a significant annual operating cost should be closed.  BACT is still in existence.

All through the 1960s, Barbados production averaged over 30 tons of cane, or about 4.0 tons of sugar, per acre.  This productivity has declined continuously since then and now averages less than 20 tons of cane or 2.0 tons of sugar per acre.  Two sugar factories are still being kept in operation at great, unnecessary expense as one would suffice.  The factories are operating inefficiently with upwards of 50 % down time resulting in significant sugar losses.


Sugar Cane is a grass, ideally suited to Barbados soils and climate (variable rainfall and temperature) with great soil erosion control which serves to improve the soil and control weeds, more so than any crop (i.e. other than another grass).

No other crop which can be grown in Barbados at the potential scale (> 10 thousand acres) of sugar cane can earn the equivalent in external/border value (equivalent foreign exchange) per acre.

A wide range of products can be manufactured from the sugar cane (sugar, candy/confectionaries, molasses/ethanol/rum and electricity) which can all be marketed and consumed locally in Barbados.  In addition, there is a product flexibility which allows the quantities to be adjusted to market demand.  

Barbados has a familiar tradition of growing sugar cane and processing it into sugar and a resulting wide knowledge base in its production.  There is already a significant investment in the production infrastructure for the sugar cane and sugar but it urgently needs a change in focus from an export market to the local market.  This can be achieved by a simple downsizing with a focus on improving productivity of what is already there.

The sugar cane is a great supporting crop for most other crops which can utilize the sugar cane infrastructure while being rotated with the cane.  In effect, the sugar cane has been the foundation of Barbados agriculture.


In the past the Barbados sugar industry has been focused on bulk sugar for export with a molasses bi-product consumed locally in the manufacture of rum. However, the vulnerability of the Barbados sugar industry to world market conditions and the reality of the loss of the EU Preferential Quota regime (in 2007?) have necessitated urgent action for product diversification within the industry and a change in focus from export to the local market.  This has not happened yet.

High operating costs and low productivity currently characterize an industry with high financial losses (>$100 million per year) and low morale that is still operating under the “draconian” 1971 Sugar Industry Act.

The industry has had little to no research support and lots of talk but little effort has been made in recent years to improve productivity.

The sugar industry is being managed by a state owned corporation and “quasi-civil servants” whose compatriots were described 40 years ago as an “army of occupation”.  Despite continuous complaints by the general public, this “army” has made no effort to improve productivity, with the Government’s top down “reform” attempts achieving little more than cosmetic changes and a disheartened Reform Unit.

The quasi-civil servants in BAMC, far from promoting productivity, have moved to remuneration based on “time” in an industry where remuneration is based worldwide on productivity.

BAMC is currently producing sugar cane at twice the cost of independent/private growers in Barbados and the cost of sugar production is more than five times the import cost.


The sugar cane is the world’s most efficient crop in converting solar energy to stored energy.  Only maize/corn and other grasses utilize the same or a similar carbon pathway in photosynthesis.  The high costs of fossil fuels now boost the potential value of the sugar cane to higher levels not only for its bio-mass in co-generation but also for bio-fuel (ethanol) to power motor vehicles.

Sugar cane produces more bio-mass (mainly cellulose) per acre than any other crop (including river tamarind).  Since cellulose is a polysaccharide consisting of a linear chain of thousands of linked glucose units (the basic chemical building block of ethanol from fermentation by yeast) the future potential of cellulosic ethanol from sugar cane is great – in theory bagasse can produce more than ten times the amount of ethanol as the equivalent amount of sugar (sucrose).

The technology for cellulosic ethanol has however not yet been developed to a financially feasible point and is unlikely to be achieved in the near future.  Even then the patents of the developer will be too costly to make it financially feasible in the foreseeable future.

Brazil currently achieves yields of 400 liters of ethanol from a ton of bagasse utilizing an acid hydrolysis process to release the glucose units in the cellulose for fermentation.  This volume of ethanol is roughly the same as can be produced (fermented) from a ton of sucrose.  Unfortunately, the acid bi-product in the Brazil process is proving very expensive to dispose of and is environmentally unfriendly.

It is understood that an element of the private sector has made a preliminary offer to the Government to take over the management of the industry in Barbados.  It is likely that this would involve a realistic downsizing but could result in a significantly more financially viable operation with reduced costs to the taxpayer.


The International Society of Sugar Cane Technologists (ISSCT) at its twenty-fifth International Congress held in Durban, South Africa in 2005, identified the smallest financially viable sugar industry in the world as one which cultivates 10,000 hectares or 25,000 acres in sugar cane.  This suggests that there is a “minimum critical mass” requirement for a sugar industry which will vary depending on productivity, costs and prices, but we can safely assume that it is at least 25,000 acres for Barbados.

The concept of a minimum critical mass, with built in economies of scale, applies to each and every crop. Crop diversification failed in Barbados because markets are simply too small to justify anything near the minimum critical mass for any crop, other than sugar cane, unless there is an attractive export market.

It was for this reason that the 1994-2008 Government administration was committed to guaranteeing the sugar cane growers $100 per ton of cane in order for them to be encouraged to increase sugar cane cultivation from the 2007 level of 22,000 acres (of which 18,000 acres were harvested annually) to 30,000 acres in order to achieve the needed economies of scale and minimum critical mass.

Since 2008, sugar cane cultivation has shrunk to less than 18,000 acres of which about 10,000 acres were harvested this year (2013) and this area is continuing to shrink, with little or no attempt made by the Government to arrest it.  The price paid to growers has also been cut and several promises for an additional cane payment have not been honoured.

The appetite of developers for cheap agricultural land continues unabated and the Town and Country Planning system in Barbados has not demonstrated the courage (or the integrity?) to resist the developers’ greed.  Instead Barbadians have been fed the argument that a developed acre of land is worth many times the value of an acre of agriculture.  This is misleading because it cherry picks the one option of agriculture or development, but this is not the only option.  What about agriculture and development?  We need to develop the thousands of acres of the non-agricultural land instead.  The result is likely to be a continuing of the trend of dwindling availability of lands for agriculture in general and the sugar industry in particular.

Furthermore, the political concern that sugar must not be seen as “dying under our watch” could also cost the taxpayers of Barbados millions in a vain attempt by the Government of the day to keep it alive if only in intensive care.


Can Barbados justify the huge investment needed ($400 million) to diversify the sugar industry given the limited and shrinking area available for cultivation of sugar cane and the poor productivity that exists?

What is the likelihood that the quasi-civil servants managing the industry can increase productivity after twenty one years of decline under their management?

Will the Government have the courage to “improve” the legislation under which the industry operates and/or allow the private sector to take it over?

The answers to these questions will determine the future of the sugar and agricultural industries in Barbados.

Peter Webster


Note:  Peter Webster is a retired Portfolio Manager of the Caribbean Development Bank and a former Senior Agricultural Officer in the Ministry of Agriculture.


A TSUNAMI OF HUNGER by Peter Webster

The World Food Programme estimates that there are currently around One Billion undernourished people on Earth.

The Barbados Sugar Industry has reached a major cross-road with growers’ costs being way more than what they are receiving for their product. Sugar Cane farmers are incurring heavy financial losses and many have reached the point where they have no option but to cease cultivation. Furthermore, they realise that such a decision is almost irreversible as the additional costs to restart operations will be prohibitive. Experience throughout the Caribbean and elsewhere is that once sugar cane operations cease they are seldom ever restarted.

This likely cessation of sugar cane production in Barbados along with the concurrent reduction in food crops is occurring at a time when experts around the world are predicting a “storm in food prices” that could generate a “tsunami of hunger”. Food prices that have risen by more than 50% over the last decade could reach exorbitant levels with more and more of the world’s poor being unable to afford food. There is and will still be enough food to feed everybody but it is the high prices and unaffordability of food to the poor that results in hunger.

Food price increases are currently being driven by six causes. These are:

  1. Increased demand through general population growth (the world’s population has more than doubled in the last fifty years) coupled with increasing food consumption which has doubled in the last thirty years;

  2. Reduction in agricultural subsidies in developed countries as a result of pressure from the United Nations Congress of Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). These institutions have claimed that subsidies result in unfair trade in agricultural products (food). Unfortunately, it is not the subsidies themselves that have seriously damaged farmers in developing countries who have no support or protection, but the dumping of surplus food produced by the subsidies on the world market at prices that are below production costs. Cessation of the subsidies will not necessarily stop the dumping and in any case is occurring fifty years too late after agricultural production throughout developing countries has been seriously damaged;

  3. Ongoing development worldwide has short-sightedly taken place mostly on agricultural lands reducing the availability of land for agriculture and ultimately depressing food production. That this has also occurred in other countries should not be a comfort to Barbadians. This reduction in available agricultural land has been balanced by improving technology (improved varieties and pesticides et al) that has resulted in increased yields and production. Unfortunately, this improved technology comes with a price tag that further adds to the production cost and increased prices;

  4. The high cost of energy has inflated production and distribution costs while creating a demand for alternative energy sources which is promoting a switch from food production to bio fuels;

  5. Developing countries’ inability to produce food after being damaged by cheap dumped food prices over the last fifty years is taking longer than expected and cannot be restored overnight. It will take many years for the “culture” and expertise that was formally handed down from generation to generation of farmers is recovered. One of the fallacies in the Caribbean is that almost anyone can be a farmer. In fact, project after project in the Caribbean (including Spring Hall Land Lease and the Land for Landless programme in Barbados) have shown that 80% of those who have tried farming have failed; and

  6. Increasing conflict worldwide is not only hampering food production but more importantly is affecting food distribution. Such conflict is at a higher level than at any time since World War II (1944) and the looming global conflict between the Judean/Christian peoples and Islamists, which is prophesied in the Christian Bible, could prove to be a catastrophe for food distribution. Note: 80% of the Biblical prophecies have come to pass so far and none of the rest has been proven wrong!

Unfortunately, such “doom and gloom” predictions have been with us for a long time and are largely ignored by our leaders (political and economic) who are now immune to what they consider to be emotional arguments. They now need more tangible evidence before they will take action to make preparations to avert the hunger crisis for the poor. In other words the disaster has to actually happen before they will start – too late – to prepare for it.

Peter Webster

Note: Peter Webster is a retired Portfolio Manager of the Caribbean Development Bank and a former Senior Agricultural Officer in the Ministry of Agriculture.

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


ARVTU Research Update 2014

The Agronomy Research and Variety Testing Unit (ARVTU) is pleased to present the first issue of the Research Update. This new publication reflects and showcases the wider research and extension scope of the Unit and replaces the longstanding publication “Variety Update” which provided the results of the annual variety yield census and focused on sugar cane variety performance.

The research areas covered in this first edition include the:
• Variety Development Programme
• Soil Fertility/Cane Nutrition Project
• Moth Borer- Island Infestation Survey
• Harvester Loss Survey
• Hot Water/Nursery Establishment to Control RSD
• Tillage and Soil Health
• Best Practice Management on Farms Aided by Technology
• Analysis of Production Costs for Conventional Plant Cane
• Non-Sugar Research Review

We hope that this volume will provide technical information useful to the advancement of a more productive and rejuvenated sugar cane industry.

ARVTU Research Update 2014