Senator voices support for imported labour

Says it would boost sugar industry

Barbados needs to support the sugar industry, possibly even importing labour to cut the canes.

That’s the view of Senator John Watson, who as he contributed to a recent debate in the Senate, contended that it is imperative that the island’s lands get back into production, and so the country should not destroy the sugar cane industry or do harm to the agricultural sector in general.

His comments came as he gave his support to a resolution to guarantee a bond of up to $73 million for Barbados Agricultural Management Company Limited, arranged by ANSA Merchant Bank.

The independent senator made the point as he contended that too much land in this country is lying idle at this time, and he is adamant that anything that can be done to get such land back into productive use should be pursued as a matter of urgency.

Watson further contended that sugar cane has more to it than its economic value, as he suggested that there is a beauty associated with sugar cane fields that Barbados should try to preserve.

“I think that is extremely important, because it is a characteristic that emphasises the aesthetic value that Barbados needs for our tourist industry, and for that reason I think it is important just to have the sugar cane to begin with. There is a greenery associated with the sugar cane, but also at the time of maturity, the sugar cane also produced some arrows, themselves very beautiful when they are swaying in the wind,” he said.

Watson said it is important that Barbados is a leader in sugar cane production, and expressed disappointment that the country is not farther ahead in this field.

“Like most other things, we neglect maintenance and continuity of the things that we do… There was a method in the way we produced canes in those days – apparently there were different breeds of cane and they were planted differently,” he said.

Senator Watson added, “When we do our research, it is to find out the best way for us to plant and the kind of yield that we would get from that cane, and added to that there is question of fertilising.

“I think one of the things we have to make sure is that we get the best yield per acre. I am told that we get 25 tonnes of cane per acre now. There are countries, I am told, that get up to 40 and 50 tonnes per acre, and I think we probably need to get to that kind of production,” he stated.

With that in mind, he said while mechanical harvesting is faster than doing it manually, this technique requires replant cane every two years, which is costing the industry. Admitting that if done manually there may not be enough labour locally to meet the demands of the industry, he is suggesting that there is nothing wrong with importing labour to do the work.

“Barbadians leave Barbados and go and pick fruit; we used to go and drive buses on the Transport… So that once you have developed a country, you would find there are certain occupations that are not attractive to many of the locals, and I believe cutting canes has become something like that,” he said.

Watson added, “I see nothing wrong with having 500 or 600 St. Lucians, Guyanese, Vincentians, Haitians, wherever, come to Barbados for the period to cut canes to save our sugar industry.”

He made the point while noting that if these persons are brought to Barbados, they would also be contributing to the economy. As such, the senator said it is an idea that serious thought should be given to. (JRT)

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