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Caricom Agriculture Ministers to review state of sugar industry

Amid high production costs and low prices, Caribbean cane sugar producers are turning their attention to produce value-added sugars and sell the sweetener in bulk to booming industries, officials said Tuesday.

Agriculture Ministers of the Caribbean Community (Caricom) are expected to review the state of the industry at a meeting of the Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED) scheduled for Friday in Paramaribo, Suriname.

Programme Manager for Agriculture at the Guyana-based Caricom Headquarters, Nisa Surujbally said the ministers would be focusing on the future of sugar as a follow-up to a Stakeholders Meeting in June that was requested by sugar-producing nations of the region.  The Stakeholders, which include members of the Sugar Association of the Caribbean (SAC) and the political directorates, have already examined the prospects of the Caribbean market, value added and arrangements with existing trading partners. Surujbally assured that the prospects for the Caribbean’s sugar industry, including direct consumption, looked good.

In the area of value-added, the Caricom official said two sugar-producing countries have decided to open a refinery rather than export bulk sugar for refinement into white sugar which is then imported. Other priorities, she said, included energy generation by sugar factories.  “That is the essential element because the value-added is really on the basis that they will be producing competitively,” she said.

Latest figures show that the Caribbean only produces half of the 800,000 tons of brand and refined sugar it requires for domestic and manufacturing consumption. She said the demand for refined sugar was growing because of additional value-added industries that have opened their doors to manufacture jams, jellies and other products. “They are all large consumers of sugar which unfortunately we have to import,” she added.

Coordinator of the Caribbean Region for the Food and Agriculture Organisation Dr. John “Deep” Forde , speaking broadly on the subject,  said the survival of the sugar industry depended a lot on diversification. “The future of the sugar industry is tied to diversified products. Bulk sugar will be shipped for a long time to come but we have got to more refining of our sugar, going into specialized sugars and sugar markets and obviously sugar-based products,” he said.

Forde argued that the Caribbean would be unable to produce with large-scale, low-cost sugar producing nations.  He noted that here in the region, small-scale sugar farmers have left the industry.

Guyana, Jamaica and Belize are the Caribbean’s largest sugar producers.