Consult to save sugar sector

The sugar industry has not known any joy for a long time. What was once a vibrant enterprise with the factories dotting the western sugar belt doing good business, creating jobs and contributing to national economic growth has largely stalled.

Farmers are owed money for their sugarcane deliveries while employees of once-profitable companies have not been paid for a long time.

The sugar belt has taken a beating, resulting in the economic decline in the entire region. Life has never been so bad for the otherwise hardworking sugarcane growers and the employees of the millers, who can hardly care for their families.

The Agriculture and Food Authority (AFA) was established to create an enabling environment to boost agricultural production. However, its recent directive to create sugarcane zones could end up causing more problems.

The AFA certainly has good intentions, driven by the need to help solve the problems afflicting the industry. But decisions should be made after extensive consultations. It should not rush to come up with decrees that are bound to be counterproductive.

Forcing farmers to sell their cane to particular millers or insisting that factories buy cane only from certain regions might not achieve the desired results and could exert even more pressure on the industry. The ideal situation would be to let market forces of supply and demand dictate the trends.

While the authority is, perhaps, seeking to protect some of the millers, care should be taken so that even the little that can be salvaged is not left to go down the drain. Industry stakeholders should brainstorm and come up with ways of saving it.