Cotton industry ‘revamp’ same talk we’ve heard for 40 years
submitted by Bleeding Hands
Barbados takes pride in our educated population and in our status as an ‘almost’ developed nation. The recent economic setbacks might have pushed us back a step or two, but this is a worldwide phenomena not exclusive to our country. Bajans should be proud of what we have achieved together in the last four decades.
One of the social changes brought about by our development and increased education, however, is that few if any of our young people aspire to jobs or business ownership in agriculture and especially not in agricultural sectors reminiscent of the plantation era of our history. If one could grow tomatoes or other food crops and make a decent living that is one thing: sugar and cotton are another world entirely in the minds of bajans and for good reason. Aside from the unprofitable nature of the those two crops, sugar and cotton have historical baggage that young bajans want nothing to do with and I cannot blame them.
Despite the unemployment on this island, Barbados has to import labour from other countires to work our sugar and cotton industries. That is because our population rejects the work, and they reject it because they have been conditioned to reject it – and also it pays nothing or next to nothing.
Educated young people do not wish to pick cotton, cut cane
We have educated our society and our young people out of the sugar and cotton industries. The economic realities of these crops mean that except in a handful of top level positions, or where old family money means that lands are kept in crop for tax and other larger business purposes, young people entering agriculture have slotted themselves into a lower income level. That’s hardly an attractive sell for an industry, and the money from these two crops is unlikely to get much better anytime soon.
Sugar especially is heavily subsidised by the Barbados government and through rapidly diminishing buying agreements with Europe that were originally established as a type of foreign aid to assist Barbados in transitioning the economy. Sugar has been heavily ‘in transition’ since at least the 1950s and no matter what our many governments have said in the last forty years, their actions show that sugar and cotton are dead as a viable life choice for the coming generations.
Despite this reality, we continue to fool ourselves that the dead will live again: and profitably!
Today in the Barbados Advocate we see ‘Cotton in demand‘, to which I ask “At what social and economic price for Barbados and for our young people?”
There are better places to grow cotton than Barbados
Contained within the trying-to-be-upbeat reporting are the seeds of truth that Barbados soils and climate are not the best for cotton quality and yield. We lack the labour resources. Our markets are far away and we haven’t been able to establish the retail sector of the business as we have wanted to for 20 years. We’ve failed to make our West Indian Sea Island Cotton ‘brand’ worth extra money so now we are back to selling to the wholesale mass markets. And you know what my friends? We can’t compete and survive in wholesale markets for anything where price is 90% of what matters. That is true in sugar, in cotton, in medical transcriptions and a host of other businesses in agriculture, manufacturing and service.
Land owners’ views
Let me tell you how Barbados land-owners look upon cotton and sugar production in the early part of the 21st century: it is a way of keeping the taxes low on lands until they can be sold or developed. We may have to keep a core of subsidised sugar production in place so we can make molasses and continue to claim ours is “Bajan” rum even though we import the majority of our molasses – but that is a special case where our rum industry depends upon access to a certain amount of ‘Bajan’ molasses. How many drops of Bajan molasses are necessary for rum to be ‘Bajan’? We don’t want to talk about that now, do we?
The future will be different. It always is and the big changes can be seen if you look at history in 20 year segments.
Bajans pick cotton and cut sugar cane? Twenty years from now?
Let’s get real!
Please go to the Barbados Advocate to read their article Cotton in demand. We have to reprint it here in full because unfortunately the Bajan news media often deletes news stories to suit different agendas, and BFP’s post is based upon a news story…
Cotton in demand
There is a demand for West Indian Sea Island Cotton.
In light of this, Exclusive Cottons of the Caribbean Incorporated (ECCI), is working hard to get into some of the larger markets, revealed General Manager Adlai Stevenson.
Speaking to participants of the Grow More Cotton seminar at the Eastern Caribbean Fertiliser Company (ECFCO) offices at the Uplands Fertilizer factory, St. John yesterday, he indicated that there is a big demand for the cotton in Italy.
“However, we want to go beyond Italy and we want to do more than simply sell to them. We are currently producing a number of products and selling those locally, but we need to get into the international market.
“Clearly the Italians and Swiss have made a lot of money off West Indian Sea Island Cotton, and it is time for us in the Caribbean, who are growing the product, to be selling wholesale in the first instance. Because as much as we dream of doing retail, to establish a retail outlet on some of the high streets will call for millions of dollars in investment,” acknowledged Stevenson.
He went on to indicate that the ECCI takes the view that there is a need to increase the use of science in the cotton industry.
“Clearly the information coming out of the soil samples and the analysis suggest that we need to work assiduously to solve some of the problem that we are seeing. At EECI clearly we are trying to go down the value chain and to earn significant profits in Barbados,” he added.
According to him, such seminars are important since there is a need to start at the farm.
“We need to ensure that we are getting good quality, and make sure the yield is adequate. In the past the yield, in my view, has been inadequate. We are reaping too little of the cotton that is produced at the farm. Therefore we need to work on harvesting, productivity of the plant itself, among other aspects. We need to involve more of the growers and begin to revamp the industry in general.”