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Sweet Fuel

Travel & news discussion about the Dominican Republic

Sweet Fuel

Postby KarenS » Sat Jun 17, 2006 6:22 am

From the Barbados Advocate:

AFTER declining for years, the Caribbean sugar industry is suddenly looking sweet again as a source of ethanol, the alternative fuel that some see as an answer to skyhigh oil prices.

Ethanol, a cleaner burning alternative fuel that can be made from corn or sugar cane, is also drawing renewed government interest and was a key topic for leaders from Central America, Mexico, Colombia and the Dominican Republic meeting in the coastal city of La Romana, which bills itself as the Dominican sugar capital.

Why is Caribbean sugar attractive?

Markets for ethanol are growing due to the insatiable demand for fuel and increasing demand for alternative energy sources. However, Caribbean sugar is particularly attractive because of the region's preferential trade access to the US market.

In the Dominican province of Monte Plata, a consortium led by Belgium-based Alcogroup has announced plans to build an ethanol plant, while the Dominican sugar co-operative says it is in talks with other partners to convert at least one sugar mill into an ethanol distillery.

"People are sort of tripping over one another to put up the mills", said Lester Lave, an economics professor at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, who studies alternative fuels. In Jamaica, Aracatu, a company based in Brazil, one of the world's leading ethanol producers, is seeking to buy out the struggling state-owned Sugar Corporation of Jamaica (SCJ) so it can enter the US market without paying tariffs under a regional free-trade agreement.

Brazil has also announced plans to advise other countries, including Haiti and Guatemala, on producing the fuel.
"In the next ten to 15 years, ethanol will be the king of fuels," said Juan Antonio Japa, general manager of the Dominican Republics national sugar cooperative.

This wave of interest comes just as sugar was fading fast throughout the Caribbean, with growers turning to other crops and sending fewer machete-wielding workers into the cane fields. The industry has fallen on hard times because of free trade deals and competition from cheaper sources of sugar such as Brazil.

In the Dominican Republic, which has lost tens of thousands of sugar jobs over the past 20 years, the industry is still key to the identity in sugar-growing areas like La Romana, the coastal city. Vendors sell fresh cane stalks on the streets.

The local baseball team is called the Sugar Growers, and it's still common to see men with machetes clutched in gnarled hands. Most of them are illegal immigrants from Haiti who make about $US2 a day heading off to back-breaking work in the cane fields.

However, the work crews are much smaller than they used to be and longtime growers have steadily moved to other products as sugar waned, mostly because trade pacts and competition from cheaper producers elsewhere in the world have made Caribbean cane much less profitable.

"Sugar is not viable any more," said Teodulo Roque Rosario Jackson, whose family has grown cane for three decades near the town of Guerra, 14 miles (23 kilometres) east of the capital, Santo Domingo.
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