The once dominant industry has faced an uncertain future since the price of cane sugar in the European Union market was cut by 36 percent in 2008.
The reduction marked the end of a long running sugar protocol, which guaranteed much higher than world market prices, but which was ruled by the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to be contrary to global free trade rules.
In Guyana, the Caribbean’s leading producer, workers have been staging industrial action to support higher salaries; Jamaican growers have had their own pay dispute while the ailing Belize industry was recently rescued by a government bailout.
According to the BBC Caribbean Report, the state owned Guyana Sugar Corporation (Guysuco) says it is heading towards its lowest annual production in two decades as a result of strikes, heavy rain and operational problems at its newest factory.
Chief executive officer, Paul Bhim said Guysuco will likely to produce no more than 198,000 tonnes this year, well below the 254,000 tonnes target set at the beginning of the year.
In Jamaica, sugar harvest began on December 10 with one of its eight companies starting production after a pay dispute with farmers was resolved. The Frome Sugar Estate in western Jamaica began milling operations, while the remaining factories are expected to get going late December and early January.
Authorities expect to produce 145,000 tonnes of sugar during this harvest, which is expected to end in July.
Cane farmers in Northern Belize have been receiving payments for last year’s crop after a cash crisis forced the postponement of the start of a new harvesting season. This was made possible after the government stepped in with a US$5 million loan.
The company that runs the industry, Belize Sugar Industries Limited, was unable to complete the so called third payment to farmers. The cash-strapped firm’s bankers pulled a line of credit, leading Prime Minister Dean Barrow to say that the industry was on the brink of collapse.
The farmers will use the money to help prepare their farms for the next crop, which was expected to start in late November, but has been postponed.