Sugar is the generalised name for sweet, short-chain, soluble carbohydrates, many of which are used in food. They are present in sufficient concentrations for extraction in sugarcane and sugar beet.

In the Caribbean, sugar is cultivated using sugarcane which refers to several specific perennial grass (Saccharum spp.). It is generally cultivated in tropical and sub-tropical regions. In the Caribbean, the marketing for sugar is usually done during October and September based on their rainy season.

In 2011, the world produced about 168 million tonnes of sugar, with consumption expected to rise to over 210 million tonnes by 2023.

Current Situation

The Caribbean sugar industry has primarily been export based, but now has largely been replaced by the tourism industry. However sugar continues to be exported to European, U.S. buyers and other CARICOM islands, while domestic consumption continues to be satisfied more by imports than production. In 2014 the Caribbean’s main sugar producers were:

  1. Guyana – 218,708 tonnes (ranking third in their annual exports in 2014 according to the “Caribbean Export Outlook 2016/17” (p. 133)
  2. Jamaica –  152,868 tonnes
  3. Belize – 113,337 tonnes
  4. Barbados -14,539 tonnes (the bulk being exported to the European Union and other CARICOM islands)

A publication on the Caribbean Sugar Industry from the Shridath Ramphal Centre for International Trade Law, Policy & Services of the University of the West Indies notes that sugar-exporting countries of the Caribbean had for many years benefited from preferential access to the EU market.

However a World Bank paper titled Sugar in The Caribbean: Adjusting Eroding Preferences  states: “Costs per unit of production have increased due to rising wages, deteriorating field and factory performance, and inefficiencies which have come with public sector control and management. Untimely strikes and high rates of absenteeism have further contributed to the deterioration of the sugar industries. Labor for undesirable tasks, such as cane cutting, is increasingly difficult to obtain and temporary workers for these jobs are often brought in from other countries. Losses accumulated over many years have led to large debts that further add to the cost of operation and limit capital for modernization.”

As a result the region’s governments have adopted strategies to address the decline of the industry through the use of diversification, and the use of niche markets and value addition

Business Case

Why invest in the sugar industry?

  • Opportunity exists to cater to niche markets, like the case of GUYSUCO in Guyana producing organic sugar for export
  • Creating sugarcane innovations that could help revive the industry and make it profitable once more
  • The CARIFORUM-EC Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) allows CARICOM to enter the EU duty free
  • Sugar industries in some islands can be viable if restructured to only include the best sugar producing land and factories
  • Privatisation may be the key moving forward, as studies show the private sector generally produce higher yields
  • There can be added value for the sugar industry, if energy is produced as a by-product


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