Sugar farmers may eye ganja

KINGSTON, Jamaica – Failure to save the ailing sugar industry could result in a spike in crime, including an increase in marijuana production and prostitution, as displaced workers try to make ends meet, a study has revealed.

The social impact assessment was commissioned by the Planning Institute of Jamaica close to three years ago.

Just last week, the Government announced that it was contemplating extending an invitation for new bids, among other alternatives, to divest the loss-making Sugar Company of Jamaica after Infinity Bio-Energy, a Brazilian company, indicated it could not meet the agreed deadline.

According to the report, industry workers believed that in the absence of sugar, persons would be forced to turn to a life of crime and children would be forced out of school.

“Crime was generally seen as an important consequence of the reforms as well as a coming mechanism in the post-reform era,” it read.

Respondents who participated in theassessment predicted that the more serious crimes, including murder, robbery and the selling of drugs, would be committed by younger, male displaced sugar workers and younger, male dependents of displaced workers.

“On the other hand, it was predicted that older displaced workers would engage in less serious crimes such as planting marijuana for sale and stealing public utilities services,” the report stated.

Respondents also expressed the view that displaced female sugar workers and young female dependants of sugar workers would become involved in the sex trade.

Professor Ian of the University of the West Indies (UWI) was the lead consultant in the preparation of the document titled Social Impact Assessment of the Likely Effects of Sugar Reform Options on Industry Workers in Jamaica, which was completed in April 2006.

“This study suggests that unless urgent remedial action is taken following the reforms, the communities may experience an increase in social problems, particularly unemployment, crime, sex work, out-migration, chronic illness, squatting and family disintegration,” the document read.

Another section said: “Focus-group respondents anticipate that without sugar, there would be an increase in crime in their communities and surrounding areas, increased poverty and hunger, disease, immoral behaviour, growing illiteracy as children are forced out of school and a coarsening of interpersonal relationships resulting in domestic abuse, mental illnesses and conflict.”

It is important to recognise, the report points out, that sugar is not only the main employer in the communities where data collection was done but also an employer of last resort.

Sugar only seemed sweet to many workers after their other business ventures failed or because no one else would employ them.

Before closing the failed Infinity deal, the Government initiated the process of making the jobs of several thousand sugar workers redundant. It paid out $800 million in lieu of notice and is to pay a further $2.1 billion for actual redundancies. However, it is estimated that about 40 per cent of sugar workers are to lose their jobs.

Donovan Stanberry, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture, told The Gleaner that the Government is aware of the implications of the expected fallout in the sector.

“That is why a comprehensive social intervention programme has been designed by the Government and is being implemented as we speak,” he said.

The programme is currently valued at $2.1 billion and is funded by the European Union. However, a proposal is before Cabinet to pump more funds into the initiative. The programme has several components that will address areas such as housing and training. There is also an economic diversification component geared towards channelling people into alternative enterprises.

Additionally, in 2007, a special unit called the Sugar Transformation Unit was established in the ministry to help to deal with the changes and resultant consequences.

The study estimated that sugar is an important source of income employment for approximately 38,000 Jamaicans. Stanberry said it would be difficult to say how many of them will be displaced as a result of the impending reform of the industry. He explained that the individual or entity that takes over the industry will determine how technologically intensive or worker intensive operations will be.

“It is hard to tell until the dust settles … . One thing’s for sure: There will be a fallout,” he said.