‘Bleak sugar future’

Truck drivers Dinesh Chand (left), Muni Chand, Krishneel Lal, Prem Narayan and Gurbachan Singh waits patiently for the Lautoka Sugar Mill to start crushing. Picture: REINAL CHAND/FILE

THE future of Fiji’s sugar industry is gloomy, some political parties say.

The Unity Fiji party, Fiji Labour Party (FLP) and National Federation Party are worried about the future of the sugar industry which was once the backbone of the Fijian economy.

As we head towards the 2018 General Election, The Fiji Times asked the six registered political parties contesting the 2018 polls about their views on Fiji’s sugar industry. We asked: q What is your party’s view on the country’s sugar industry?

q What does your party intend to do to better the industry’s performance? The Social Democratic Liberal Party (SODELPA), FijiFirst party and the Freedom Alliance Party did not respond to the questions when this edition went to press last night. Questions were sent to the parties via electronic mail (email) on Monday.

The Unity Fiji party, FLP and NFP responded to the questions. Unity Fiji leader Savenaca Narube claimed the main issue facing the industry was inadequate returns from sugarcane farming.

“After all expenses are paid, the farmers are left with very little money to care for their families. That is a lot of sweat and tears for very little,” Mr Narube said.

He said to revive the industry, this fundamental issue needed to be addressed. “Unfortunately, all governments have sidestepped this problem for political convenience. Their band-aid solutions have prolonged and deepened the problem of this important industry.”

FLP leader Mahendra Chaudhry said a serious question mark continued to hang over the future of the sugar industry despite all government rhetoric and assurances, and millions of dollars of taxpayer funds pumped into it each year.

Mr Chaudhry said a number of factors were responsible for the drastic decline in the industry’s performance.

“Ranking high are problems relating to availability of land, sharp reduction in cane prices with the withdrawal of EC’s (European Commission’s) preferential price for ACP sugar, and steep increases in the cost of production and transportation to mills,” he said.

NFP parliamentary Whip Prem Singh said the sugar industry had been moribund or staggering towards death since the past 12 years.

Mr Singh said the government’s forecast on the industry was horribly wrong.

He said this week, the NFP called for the Lautoka sugar mill to be shut down to enable an immediate independent investigation into the scope of works carried out at the mill that reportedly cost Fiji Sugar Corporation $16 million.

This, after the country’s largest sugar mill suffered three breakdowns within eight days since it started crushing.

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