BARBADOS – The planned restructuring of the local Barbados sugar industry is likely to receive a boost in the form of technical assistance from the Governments of the People’s Republic of China and Mauritius.
This has been intimated by Barbados Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Senator Erskine Griffith, who has cited the development of suitable varieties of fuel cane, technology transfer in the area of water management, and a potential market for sugar exports as among the possible areas for technical cooperation.
Senator Griffith, who recently returned home, was part of an official delegation to China for celebrations that marked the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between that country and Barbados. He subsequently visited Mauritius to attend a meeting of the Council of the International Sugar Organisation (ISO).
In speaking to the China talks, Minister Griffith said following discussions with that country’s Minister of Agriculture , they agreed “ in principle” on a framework from which a strong technical assistance programme could be developed for Barbados.
“We discussed areas such as the production of vegetables using high-tech methods; the issue of further advancing our cotton programme; and the use of Chinese expertise in helping to develop our sugar industry, particularly in trying to find as quickly as possible a variety of cane which is high in sucrose and bio-masse,” he explained.
In terms of the latter , Minister Griffith noted that while Barbados currently grew fuel cane varieties which were relatively low in bio-masse, the production of ethanol and electricity, which forms part of the transformation project, required a much higher level of bio-masse as well as sucrose content.
“So, we are trying to find one variety which can satisfy both demands. The experts at the Cane Breeding Station are pursuing this by using traditional methods which could take a minimum of 10 years. We are, therefore, looking for ways of achieving that objective in a shorter space of time. In our discussions, the Chinese have indicated a willingness to work with us on that,” he explained.
On the issue of water management, Mr.Griffith reported that China, like Barbados, also had some areas which were quite dry due to water scarcity. Pointing out that his Chinese counterparts had developed various techniques and varieties of vegetables to cope with these conditions; he said this was another area identified for the transfer of technology.
During talks with members of the private sector, Senator Griffith revealed that some interest was expressed in importing sugar from Barbados. This was after samples of the Plantation Reserve brand were given to interested parties. Some follow-up is expected to be made in the near future.
“China is a very large producer of sugar – but the consumption of sugar is even greater – as a result, they import approximately 2 million tonnes of sugar annually. If we can get a small part of that market it will make a great difference to us,” he explained, stressing that it was totally to Barbados’ benefit to have sat around the table with China.
While in Mauritius, Minister Griffith, and his team, also had the opportunity to engage in fruitful discussions with their counterparts.
In addition to gleaning useful information from the conference, Senator Griffith mentioned a visit to a sugar cane research station where researchers were also working on fuel canes as being particularly beneficial.
“They are using some varieties which were developed in Barbados to cross with some developed there; so, that is one possible area of cooperation that we have discussed,” he revealed.
Visits to a reconstructed factory akin to that proposed for the multi-purpose sugar cane plant, as well as to a Living Sugar Museum were also parts of the Mauritian experience.
“As you know, we are proposing to use the old Bulkeley Factory in that same manner …where visitors and locals alike can go and learn about the history of the sugar industry. So, in that sense, we took the opportunity to look at those aspects which would assist us in the overall transformation of the industry,” said Mr. Griffith.
The five-day visit to China by the Barbadian delegation, which was headed by Prime Minister Owen Arthur, was aimed at exploring opportunities for further collaboration in areas such as agriculture, sports and tourism. Chief Agricultural Officer, Barton Clarke, also participated in the agricultural talks.