The Closure of Caroni (1975) Limited

Politics before food

Sugar and Energy Festival Street Parade: October 09, 2005
Sugar and Energy Festival Street Parade – October 09, 2005

By Andre Bagoo
May 18 2013 –

THE CLOSURE of Caroni (1975) Limited and consequent devastating impact on the agriculture sector and TT’s food security, may be directly linked to political considerations surrounding the then PNM government’s fear of a repeat of the 18-18 general election deadlock of 2001, Tourism Minister Stephen Cadiz said yesterday.

Contributing to debate on long overdue legislation to close the books of a precursor sugar control board, Cadiz lamented the effect closure of that company had, not just on employees in the sugar belt but on offshoot industries in agriculture including buffalypso and citrus.

Cadiz noted that in November 1999, San Fernando East MP Patrick Manning (who would later become Prime Minister) spoke highly of Caroni (1975) Ltd and its role in food security. A mere three years later, that tune changed.

“They are the only ones who can tell us what happened in 2003,” Cadiz said, pointing to Opposition PNM MPs in Parliament yesterday, where debate on the Sugar Industry Control Board (Repeal)(Validation) Bill, 2013 began. “A mere three years after, they came and decided that would be the end of it. One really has to wonder whether that was not really the result of the 18-18 election tie somehow. Somebody’s mind changed and decided the best way to deal with 18-18, was to deal with Caroni, because of the effect it would have on the economy in that particular area,” the Chaguanas East MP said.

“Caroni Limited was not about sugar. At the end of the day it was about everything else. Its closure was simply one of the ways to deal with the then Opposition (UNC). That is why the closure of Caroni came like a thief in the night because they could have restructured it. That is the politics of the kitchen table,” he charged.

Cadiz called on the Opposition PNM to apologise for its record on agriculture, linking the closure of Caroni with the demise of key agricultural sectors. “Until those on the other side apologise to this country for what they did this side, the People’s Partnership, the people in Government are going to continue to remind the population,” Cadiz said.

He noted that before the rise of the petroleum industry, TT’s economy was dominated by agriculture. “There is more to it than the closure of Caroni,” Cadiz said. “This is a country where if you stick your finger in the ground, it will grow. We have been farmers for centuries. Tobago used to feed Trinidad. Before the great oil came in 1907, what did this country rely on for its exports? It was all agriculture. All agriculture. We ate locally. Now…US$600 million worth of food is imported!”

Cadiz said the closure of Caroni had an adverse effect on this country’s ability to produce the now world-famous buffalypso, which was developed here by Dr Steve Bennett, now deceased.

“By padlocking that gate, not understanding what we were doing, the famous buffalypso suffered,” Cadiz said. “Dr Steve Bennett, who received a national award recently, pioneered the buffalypso. He spent years developing the breeding herd.

“You know what they did? They sent it to Venezuela and Costa Rica. They sold off the breeding herd. Imagine that! We spent years developing something that Trinidad and Tobago could live off. What did you do with it?”

Cadiz lamented the visible decline in citrus production since Caroni’s closure, particularly on the company’s 6,000-acre La Gloria estate near Tableland. He said TT now imports fruit juice concentrate from Belize.

“I remember driving south and we used to see trucks loaded with citrus coming up the road overflowing with citrus,” Cadiz said. “You know what we have to do now, Mr Speaker? It’s good business for Belize. We have to import concentrate from Belize. I think the Belizean people are very happy to export concentrate to us. So we go from being a net exporter of grapefruit to the United Kingdom to now every juice you see in a box, is concentrate…out of Belize.”

He noted that today Angostura has to grow 17,000 acres of sugar cane in Barbados to make up for a shortfall of molasses locally which would previously have been supplied by Caroni (1975) Limited.



It’s PP who betrayed farmers, says Browne

Diego Martin Central MP Dr Amery Browne
Diego Martin Central MP Dr Amery Browne

By Rhonda Krystal Rambally
May 19, 2013 –

No government has betrayed the farmers in this country more than the People’s Partnership Government. So said Diego Martin Central MP Dr Amery Browne on Friday during his contribution to the The Sugar Industry Control Board (Repeal) (Validation) Bill, 2013. He went on to say no government had “deceived” farmers more than the current one and destroyed more crops. He then referred to the Oropouche West MP but was stopped by Government MPs, citing Standing Order 36 (5).

The word deceived raised an alarm but House Speaker Wade Mark rose only to say, “Yeah, yeah…ammm…let’s…continue, please.” Browne read from a column written by Anand Ramlogan in January 2010—before he became Attorney General—titled Black and White Facts. Browne quoted Ramlogan’s column, “Although I was pilloried and vilified in the last general election for saying Panday was responsible for the closure of Caroni, Kamla has now made a similar criticism.

“It is a fact, Panday mishandled Caroni. “The closure of Caroni was started by the Panday government which was ready to dismantle it and sell it off.” Browne read extensively from the column, which dealt with the closure of the sugar company. He said his message for farmers or anyone involved in the sugar cane industry was that the Government could not be trusted at all. He said Caroni (1975) Ltd was the most precious opportunity for the Government.

Browne said, “When they wanted to crush and destroy Mr Panday, that was the weapon against him. “They said he was the one…his adminstration…the UNC under Mr Panday, who started the destruction of Caroni (1975) Ltd. “Now that they are in government, Mr Speaker, they have erased that memory and are now trying to use the same Caroni closure and pin it on the People’s National Movement. “Mr Speaker, that is political schizophrenia.”


3 thoughts on “The Closure of Caroni (1975) Limited”

  1. Much can and has been said about Caroni. Politics is perhaps the only entertainment the aloholics have to keep them entertained. Yes, the rum shop talk about Caroni continues. The only difference now is the PP in charge of Caroni lands. Place in their hands is this mass of land that remains empty and unused. What is the PP plans for this land? Those who have eaten salt and rice and have labored in the hot sun were promise some of this land, but to date it remains out of their reach.

    The PP needs to understand politics can be a 10 days job, today you are in and the next day out. The supporters of the PP should be given the respect they deserve, by giving them their due and ensuring that the folly of Panday is not repeated. The remainder of the land should come under mass mechanized farming and some set aside for industrial park. When the PNM returns to power the only thing they would be doing is planting houses.

  2. Caroni has been a political football since it has been referred to as the breeding ground for opposition politics. It must never be dismissed that what Panday achieved for sugar workers was the start what Weekes was doing for oilfield workers legally through labour law. The excuses made that Caroni was closed down because of global market’s needs and pricing of sugar is as myopic as dis-respecting the sugar cane plant as being the best converter of solar energy to potential energy. To mull over the politics that transpired is a waste but to cite what was being quietly achieved is a must. Let it be known that natural sugar is in demand now because of the carcinogenic properties associated with aspartames etc.
    (1) The solution was to scale down production from international and regional markets and focus on domestic markets only. This would have saved us from the EEC and contracts entered in supplying sugar at set prices which was less than production costs (Rampersad Plan). The question that needs to be asked is what went into production costs? (Managing director making 23 trips in one year to the UK)
    (2) To enter into agricultural and industrial diversification (Spence report) simultaneously needed a strategic approach employing an education and symbiotic relationship whereby the Unions would be aware and understand that an agreement with the sugar company would be different than it was say Rum Division. (Golden Glow was one of the best rums produced locally in the 60s). This submission is bias towards industrial diversification.
    (3) Management of the production operations of the sugar company has to be different from the satellite companies e.g. Rum Division, Buffalypso rearing, citrus production, Rice cultivation etc. This means that all satellite companies had to be their own Cost Centers. (What’s different from the Neal and Massy holding companies compared to a Caroni (1975) Ltd holding company?)
    (4) What the Research station was to Caroni in its cane cultivation, yields etc. is what UWI was to the industrial diversification for the satellite companies e.g. Mon Jaloux (milk farming?), Rum Division (yeast), Rice cultivation (distillery effluent), Aquaculture (Orange Grove) etc. In fact one student achieved his Masters in reaching JETT the by product from refined sugar manufacture as the syrup in making cordials, liqueurs from fruits (e.g. passion fruit) from Orange Grove.(Keep in mind all local expertise. No foreign consultants)
    (5) Rum Division changed its batch fermentation process to that of incremental fermentation in order to start tapping off carbon dioxide as a refrigerant for the potential Baker’s Yeast production. There was a plan in motion to get established a Quality Vinegar plant established at Caroni. (Keep in mind no extravagant plant capacity but an incremental approach i.e. as market demand increases so can your production capacity)
    (6) When the dry season came in and the effluent from the distillery was discharged into the Caroni River there was a starvation of oxygen resulting in dead fish because of the high BOD of the effluent. Water from the river was taken in to the distillery and was then transferred into the rice cultivation area as an irrigant. The effluent was rich in nitrates, phosphates and potash natural fertilizer.
    (7) T&T was importing 90,000,000 lbs. of rice per annum in 1980. The Rice project of Caroni in the 3 phases was on the threshold of producing 10,000,000 lbs. by 1988. Import substitution using a natural fertilizer as an irrigant was also bearing significant result.
    (8) What was the thinking here? Caroni divided into 3 complexes (industrially). Fermentation Complex (Caron)i, Bagasse complex (BC) and the Sugar Complex (USM). All this was identified in a paper in 1981/2 “Sugar complex to lend itself to Biotechnology Developments in Trinidad and Tobago”. Every aspect of the Industrial diversification bore local expertise. The expertise was of all different racial background, to name a few Dr.Griffith, Dr.Biran, Dr.Chang Yen, Dr. Narinesingh, Dr. Ranjit Singh, Dr. Carr and many more. So then what was the problem? This was treading on toes that were making livelihood in importing sardines and selling to the public but had strong connections with government and decision makers.
    All the above was well received internationally at different platforms e.g. Commonwealth Secretariat London, UK, CSIRO in Australia, Ministry of Environment in France, Research institutes in China and India etc. As the saying goes a Prophet is never recognized in his own kingdom. When we start pointing fingers at people we need to look at ourselves firstly and realize that the quagmire we get ourselves into can sometimes be beyond our reach. T&T has so much expertise that it is admirable to see how well their sons and daughters function overseas but fall flat in their homeland.

  3. We shut down an indian thiefing frency – we need to open a “trini” cane sugar producing business run by ethical trinis. We use too much of this product locally.

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