Let’s roll in changes in sugar industry or we will regret it later
We cannot afford the politics of the past and we must not be afraid of changes. We need to innovate and come up with new ideas, not the old ones that are no longer relevant in the modern economy. We are still expecting our economy as a whole to grow by up to 3 per cent this year despite the devastation wrought by Winston.
This is not the time to be playing politics on sugar. This is a time to seriously consider how we can keep the industry viable in the face of severe challenges because all of us will be affected one way or the other. Not just the sugarcane farmers and their families but the many thousands who depend on sugar for their livelihoods – the cane lorry drivers and owners, the operators of the secondary industries who feed off the sugarcane farmers. The shops, transport etc.
In a nutshell, the whole nation is affected. The jobs that were created because of sugar could disappear. This is the ultimate implication. Instead of embarking on a political points-scoring game, we need to seriously look at the end game. Where will be next year when our sugar quotas to the European Union end? This is a sobering thought. Fortunately for us, Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama and his Government are putting in place changes that will save the sugar industry and the livelihood of more than 200,000 people who are directly dependent on it. According to Mr Bainimarama this has meant dismantling a number of industry structures, upgrading three of four sugar mills and strengthening the finances of the Fiji Sugar Corporation. He says now they are concentrating on the legal framework of the industry – further refining and streamlining its processes – with two bills that have been before a parliamentary committee that will soon report to Parliament itself.
The bills have dispensed with some historical institutions that are no longer relevant in the much more dynamic and price volatile environment in the sugar industry.
Critics of the sugar reforms have attacked the proposed changes without really looking at the end product. We cannot afford the politics of the past and we must not be afraid of changes. We need to innovate and come up with new ideas, not the old ones that are no longer relevant in the modern economy. We see politicians of old coming out of the woodwork and trying to influence the masses with their own spin of what is wrong with the reforms. The need for reforms is even more urgent now after Cyclone Winston. All up our losses in sugarcane industry add up to $163.35 million. The loss of workers’ livelihoods is $53.5 million. The damage and losses at the FSC mills is pegged at $72.7 million. Production infrastructure losses are $16.9 million. And a further $19.7 million has been lost in industry services. We are lucky Winston spared our tourism industry. It has given us that breathing space to be able to bounce back quickly.
It is something that we will have to continue to be mindful about our future in relation to climate change.
We are vulnerable to adverse weather patterns. It’s all the more reason that we should be innovating and finding new ways of sustaining our industry in the event of another catastrophic natural disaster.
Diversification is a way forward. Right now all ideas should be on the table to help strengthen our resilience. If we do not do it now we will regret it later.