Why our youngsters say no to cane farming

  • 8th June 2015
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Bala Dass of FCGA needs to do better than blame the lack of water supply and electricity as factors deterring our younger generation from taking up cane farming (FT 8/6). In fact, most cane growing areas are well catered for with these utilities, with a few exceptions.

The real deterrent is the hassle that a cane farmer has to go through during the various stages of cultivation, harvesting and sending his cane to the mills, and what he gets paid for it in the end.

Aside from that the farmer has to contend with the land lease problems and the ever escalating rent payments to TLTB or the Lands Department.

HARVEST NIGHTMARE

The onset of harvest is a nightmare for him – for the following reasons:

• arranging cane cutters from outer areas because of labour shortage around the cane farms
• transporting them to the farm, providing them accommodation and food for the period they are employed
• paying an advance of between $300-$700 to secure the cane cutters services. In a number of cases, the cutters abscond after receiving the advance – the farmer is left holding the sack.
• obtaining harvest quotas for which FSC Field Officers’ palm has to be greased, particularly if it is for burnt cane
• arranging lorries to transport the cane to the mill. In cases of mill breakdowns, or stoppages resulting from short cane supply, the lorry drivers and owners would demand additional payment as laden trucks would have to wait to discharge their loads for between 24-72 hours.
• LTA fines also take their toll on the farmers who are heavily penalized for minor breaches.

GETTING PAID

Getting paid for the crop the farmer has nurtured for 12 months is another painful experience. Payment is spread over a period of 15 months in 5 instalments. Deductions for land rent, fertilizer, weedicides and rice purchases, harvesting and transport costs and SCGF loans are made from each payment leaving little for the cane farmer.

Almost 80% of the farmers produce between 150-250 tonnes of cane. A farmer
producing 200 tonnes would have gross earnings of $14,600 p.a. at the current price of $73 per tonne.

Expenditure per tonne of cane adds up to around $52, leaving $21 per tonne for the farmer ie. $4200 p.a. – hardly a worthwhile return.

The current EU guaranteed price for our sugar exports will cease in 2017 from when we will have to rely on the international market price. Projections at this stage indicate a severe reduction of around 30% in our sugar export price which will mean a cane price of $51 per tonne for the farmer – will he survive on it?

Our youngsters are well-tuned to the impending calamity – in fact, they saw it sometime ago.

There is a far bigger issue here than the one under discussion and that is the survival of the sugar industry itself. The bankrupt state of FSC (see our post of 27 May 2015) and the fact that our sugar production cost, at around US20c/lb. is well above the world market raw sugar “dump” price of US12.45c/lb (as of May 2015) and predicted to erode even further when the ACP Sugar Protocol expires in 2017, give us little hope for the survival of our once thriving sugar industry.