By Andre Skeete
BRIDGETOWN, Barbados (BGIS) -- The Barbados government is moving full steam ahead with plans to transform the local sugar industry and convert to a one-factory model, with the deadline for completion now set for 2016.
This is according to chairman of the Barbados Cane Industry Corporation (BCIC), Dr. Atlee Brathwaite, who said discussions were presently under way with several regional and international funding agencies for the establishment of the multi-purpose factory, which would cost government in the region of US $150 to $200 million.
Speaking recently during a press conference, he assured Barbadians and workers that the smooth operation of the industry would continue while the multi-purpose plant was being set up.
"We are not closing Portvale. That will continue to operate. We will upgrade it to ensure it continues to do a good job. We won't close Andrews all together... It is critical to make this point because we have a labour component which is important in this exercise. We have to assure the persons working in the industry that they will be employed during the transitional stage... After the transition, we will be critically looking at our human resources... the type of training that will be required to ensure that the persons who are presently operating in the factories would be capable of doing so in the new one," he said.
Brathwaite pointed out that among the range of high value products which would be produced by the new factory would be specialty and refined sugars as well as refined molasses.
"You know molasses is normally a byproduct of sugar cane, but we are doing more than that. We are looking at what we would call a more refined molasses, that is, a molasses which would be able to produce quality rum. Indeed that would have an impact on the industry because the molasses which we produce at the moment is the type that allows the industry to sell bulk rum, but producers are more concerned about selling specialised rum, where they could get high prices for their product."
The BCIC head added that with the new factory, production estimates were 17,000 tonnes of specialty sugar; 12,000 tonnes of refined sugar; and 18,000 tonnes of molasses.
With regard to production of energy from sugar cane, Brathwaite said discussions with the Barbados Light and Power Company had been positive, with the company giving its endorsement.
He acknowledged that while there was not enough sugar cane to sustain the production of power throughout the year, government was exploring the possibility of using other products within the agricultural sector for power generation such as River Tamarind.
Minister of Agriculture, Food, Fisheries and Water Resource Management, Dr David Estwick also addressed this subject at the press conference. He disclosed that another energy project, which would see alcohol dehydrated and made available for the automotive industry, was also under consideration.
"We now import 140 million litres of gasoline annually. Added to the gasoline to enhance its burning is an additive called MTBE, which we know to be a toxin and a carcinogen. It is, therefore, in the interest of the country, and also due to our greening activities, that we are moving to replace that... This now creates an additional revenue stream from the rum industry that is driven from the agriculture side of cane production."
Estwick also stressed that pending Cabinet's approval, he would be seeking to halt the exportation of local sugar to European markets, since this process was not economically viable.
In a wide-ranging report on some of the ministry's major projects and programmes, Estwick stressed that producing sugar for BDS $1,400 per tonne for resale at BDS $980 did not make economic sense.
"I will not support it. We will produce our sugar for domestic consumption and regional, within the context of the revised Treaty of Chaguaramas," he pointed out.
Estwick told an audience which included senior officials in the Ministry of Agriculture, Food, Fisheries and Water Resource Management that he would also be seeking to streamline the management of the sugar cane industry to meet the demands of this new thrust.