Barbados Sugar Cane Industry
Sugar production, for decades past, the backbone of the Barbados economy, is now largely in decline, as world market prices plummet and manufacturing costs continue their upward spiral.
The 2008 sugar harvest yielded some 31,600 tonnes of sugar, about 2,300 tonnes less than the 2007 crop year, but there may be a silver lining ahead.
Sugar was introduced to the island by the early settlers in the 15th century and provided Britain with sugar, rum and molasses.
The plantations were, in the main, owned in Britain and operated by slave labour. They grew sugar cane, ground it on site, extracted the juice, processed it and shipped the raw sugar to Britain to be refined into various products.
Although the cost of production has exceeded the selling price on the world market, Barbados has maintained the industry for its foreign exchange value.
Over the last four decades, the island found help in several agreements and arrangements with Britain and the now European Union (EU), which accepted Barbados sugar at preferential prices.
The economic challenges however led to the number of factories being shrunk, from as many as 10, to 2. Today only Andrews Sugar Factory in St. Joseph and Portvale in St. James produce sugar.
To improve efficiency and maintain production costs the Barbados industry has also moved from being labour intensive to full mechanization.
The Barbados Agricultural Management Company (BAMC) manages and operates the sugar industry. It looks after the grinding of the canes, the refining of the sugar and the marketing and sale of the product.
With Europe drastically reducing the price it is willing to pay for Barbados sugar (to safeguard it own beet sugar industry), the BAMC is well into a new strategy.
New specialty products have begun appearing on the retail market carrying the Barbadian sugar trade mark.
In the longer term the plan is to quit producing sugar for export at cheap prices to producing electricity for local use and for which there is an assured market at a good price and to producing molasses for the island’s growing rum export industry.
Author: Brett Callaghan