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St. Kitts Property & Commercial Investment : The Last Harvest - Article


Public opinion defines us and shapes our history, sometimes in small ways, and sometimes on a much grander scale and there is no foretelling the result.

In the heat of a normal globally-warmed July in the centre of Basseterre, rests an ornate Victorian stone fountain with a couple of semi-nude figures supporting the bowl above their heads, and this piece of sculpture forms the centre of Emancipation Square.

Around the Square, the public go about their daily business, shop keepers, business people, bankers and taxi drivers in the very heart of this historic and vibrant Eastern Caribbean port. Their opinion about the imminent closure of a 200 year old industry which has been the economic mainstay of St. Kitts is as diverse as it is richly outspoken.

"When you live on a small island, you gotta a lotta time to tink", says one taxi driver brooding over the loss of 1400 jobs from the sugar industry which was about to take place on the 31st July, 2005.

Earlier when he picks us up, he turns the volume down, almost to silence, on the loud, thumping reggae that was playing on his bus radio before we arrived. "Went to a seminar by the government, they told us that tourists they don't like the loud music. So we gotta turn it down." But he smiles and doesn't seem put out by other people's opinions, and not being able to share his love of loud reggae.

We ask him about the seminars, and he explains that the government had invested in a series of seminars and training for taxi drivers to be licensed for transporting tourists. "I had to answer 150 questions" he continues, which seems a little excessive to us in the light of the 65 square miles which constitute the island of St. Kitts.


St. Kitts sugar harvest

Vats of Molasses - SSMC Factory

So off we go to the SSMC factory to find out what he and everyone else are so despondent about. Rumours are that the sugar industry of St. Kitts run by the St.Kitts Sugar Manufacturing Company is closing down forever, this being the last harvest.

From the farmers to the sales team, from the field to the international sugar markets, this has been an unchanging economic, social and cultural cycle which has defined St. Kitts for over 200 years. And in a few more days, it will move from the average Kittitians daily grind to a position in history.

In the 1980's 60% of exports came from the sugar industry. Today the losses in the sugar industry are so high that they are threatening the stability of the whole St.Kitts economy. This puts around 300 people in the factory and over a 1000 in the cane fields out of work in one day, and in a small country with a population of 39,000 that's a serious number of families affected.

The plans and theories as to what to do with the industry after the cessation of sugar manufacturing as it's carried out in St. Kitts today, are many and varied!

There is the Scottish company who wants to develop a St.Kitts distillery using the molasses and another company interested in manufacturing ethanol from sugar as an alternative energy source.

Other ideas include turning the whole factory into a working museum, manufacturing boutique sugar based products from unrefined, wholesome sugar, turning the canefields into market gardening and turning fruit and vegetables into an export product.


St. Kitts sugar harvest and factory

Dumping the cane from the rail trucks


I suspect that not one of but a number of these industries will be the answer and diversification will happen. "I am going to grow irish potatoes, sweet peppers and onions on my land," said one sugar cane farmer climbing out of his tractor wearing his SSMC teeshirt, "the Marriott takes all the local vegetables it can get".

The Marriott hotel is the largest on St.Kitts with over six hundred rooms, and currently imports most of its fruit and vegetables, simply because there is not enough local produce to fulfill its needs. A couple of other Kittitian farmers were not so prepared to face the future, "there's not enough in tourism for us all, who is going to help us? They're not telling us anything, we don't know even if we're getting the redundancy" says one, anger behind his smile.

The Kittitian technician who grades the sugar crystals and molasses at the vacuum vats using a sighting window and a test cylinder which is thrust periodically through a tube into the centre of the vat and withdrawn capturing a spoonful of steaming mix, explains that the Grade C vat has been shutdown.

"Why" I mouth as opposed to speaking out loud as it is almost impossible to hold a conversation against the background of roaring furnaces, steam engines, conveyor belts, bubbling vats and general steam engine machinery noise.

He bends over and speaks in my ear "Because the factory is closing, and we are only producing high grade sugar at the end." He is a young man, and shrugs ruefully, unsmiling, as I make sympathetic gestures.

In the factory one man breaks down, unable to face or even talk about the future. The supervisor who shows us around the Dickensian industrial heart of the sugar manufacturing, dodging under failing pipework dripping with boiling water or molasses, isn't looking for sympathy when he says "I started when I was 13 years old, I have been here for over 30 years. I don't know what I am going to do."

On the way back past the slightly out of place Victorian fountain in Emancipation Square which was once a slave market, I remember that it was this stone sculpture which was one of many that had been originally created for Trafalgar Square in London, but that public opinion frowned on the nudity displayed by the carved figures, and so the work was refused and was stored somewhere in London.

It was Sir Berkeley, a planter-politician St. Kitts grandee, who spotted it, bought it and brought it back to St. Kitts where it became one of the most famous landmarks of Basseterre. Recently it was suggested that it should be torn down, and replaced with something more fitting to Kittitian history. But the public rose up and demanded that it remain, and so it does, strangely painted blue!

There does seem to be an awful lot of public opinion around at the moment in St. Kitts, on rather a grand scale, and there really is no foretelling where it will all end.

St. Kitts property and real estate

One of the last trains to leave the St. Kitts cane fields for the Factory

Footnote : May 2007

The above article was written in October 2005. The sugar factory closed down within a few days of the interviews with the sugar workers, and the photos for this article having being taken. To date the St. Kitts government has investigated many options for the use of the sugar cane fields and factory, but has not yet made a decision.

Article written by Caribbean Land and Property 
Text and Images Copyright 2005 - 2007 Caribbean Land and Property Limited

Last Updated On 17 Sep 2019