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28th West Indies Sugar Technologists Conference

June 14 - 18, 2004 Barbados

 

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Welcome

Welcome to the Proceedings of the 28th West Indies Sugar Technologists Conference.

The West Indies Sugar Technologists Conferences are organised under the auspices of the Sugar Association of the Caribbean and are held triennially in one of the region's sugar producing countries. They provide an opportunity for technologists from both field and factory to present scientific papers to their peers and the wider public and to discuss critical issues common to the sugar industries in the region.

The 28th Conference ended on a high note of optimism for the future of the sugar cane industries in the region. It has been accepted by all parties involved that the future does not lie in the production of raw sugar, due to the low prices of sugar and the high costs of production in the Caribbean region. See Recommendations.

The delegates at the Conference benefited from inputs of invited guest speakers from Mauritius, Brazil and Canada as well as from technical papers presented by authors from the Caribbean, India, South Africa, Ecuador, the UK and the USA. The opening address was presented by Senator the Honourable Erskine Griffith, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Barbados.

Reflecting the true international aspect of the Conference, the Executive Director of the International Sugar Organisation, Dr. Peter Baron, spoke on “Key issues shaping the future of the world sugar industry”, while the Editor of the International Sugar Journal observed the entire Conference after publishing two separate articles in the Journal advertising the Conference. A Review of the Conference is planned for the August issue.

Addresses by the General Manager of Barbados Agricultural Management Co. Ltd and by the Chairman of the Sugar Association of the Caribbean set the scene for the theme of the Conference which was: Initiatives and innovations towards a sustainable future of the sugar cane industry.” Most speakers on the first day stressed that, in order to create a sustainable future, it is necessary to change the sugar industry into a sugarcane industry, and to quickly identify and produce products other than raw sugar that can be produced from sugarcane and that can make the industries economically viable and sustainable. The production of energy from either molasses or fibre is considered to be particularly promising, especially when using new technologies that can produce many times more energy than existing methods from a tonne of cane.

Recommendations

The following recommendations arose out of the technical presentations and discussions:

There is an urgent need to re-engineer the regional industries, as high production costs will make it even more unprofitable to produce just raw sugar for the European Union market. Participants agreed that the focus had to shift from producing sugar alone to making higher-value products from sugar cane.

Energy in its various forms was considered to hold the most promising prospects. Owing to the depletion of conventional world fuel reserves, renewable sources of energy will play an increasing role in meeting a growing demand. This gives regional industries the opportunity to remodel themselves to become sugar cane industries with greater emphasis on exploiting the sugar cane plant as a biofuel. Sugar cane is one of the most efficient producers of energy, and refocusing the industries in this direction offers the best chance of a viable long-term future.

New technologies also open up exciting possibilities, such as the production of xanthan gum.

All the regional research institutions must collaborate in order to achieve cost effectiveness and to maximise on available funding for research and development.

New ventures will not succeed unless production costs are reduced and cane yields increased. The conference heard of several ways to this end, such as reduced tillage and the use of distillery wastes for irrigation and the supply of nutrients. Soon, too, the region will be able to select commercial varieties from crosses involving the new very high sucrose parents now being grown by the West Indies cane breeding station.

Mechanisms must be put in place or enhanced that send a clear message to all workers that they play a crucial role in ensuring the industry's future. For the new ventures to succeed, all stakeholders – governments, companies, trade unions and civil society as a whole – have to work in partnership.

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