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 labor. 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 production cost 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 new European Union (EU), which accepted Barbados’ sugar at preferential prices.
However, the economic challenges 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 produces sugar.
To improve efficiency and maintain production costs, the Barbados industry has also moved from labor-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 product’s marketing and sale.
With Europe drastically reducing the price it is willing to pay for Barbados sugar (to safeguard its own beet sugar industry), the BAMC is well into a new strategy.
New specialty products have begun appearing in the retail market, carrying the Barbadian sugar trademark.
The plan is to quit producing sugar for export at low prices to produce electricity for local use in the longer term. There is an assured market at a good price and producing molasses for the island’s growing rum export industry.
Author: Brett Callaghan