By Benjamin Flowers
Belize Sugar Industries, owned by the American Sugar Refineries (ASR) group, maintains that it has given the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association a fair remuneration for bagasse based on the amount of fiber the company uses.
Olivia Avilez, BSI’s officer for Cane Farmer Relations, explained that the company’s stance is rooted in its position on what bagasse is, the amount of fiber it uses to produce electricity for sale, and the fact that Belcogen is operating at a financial loss and cannot pay what the farmers are asking.
“BSI maintains its position that bagasse is a waste product resulting from the milling process, we are just using it more efficiently,” Avilez said.
Avilez explained that bagasse’s composition is 48 percent water, 48 percent fiber, two percent sucrose and two percent soil. Of the total amount of fiber, only 29 percent of the fiber is used to generate electricity to sell to Belize Electricity Limited and the remainder used to produce heat, steam, and electricity for the sugar mill.
She also explained that currently Belcogen is operating at a loss for its first four years of operations, being unable to meet its target amount of energy sold to BEL because of low quality cane.
According to BSI, Belcogen was only able to provide 15 percent of the value to the national power grid, though the business model called for 20 percent. BSI’s Chief Financial Officer Belezario Carballo explained that Belcogen only produced 58,606 Megawatt hours of power for the fiscal year 2013.
With those considerations BSI offered the cane farmers a formula which would result in a payout of $550,000 for the 2013 crop.
This amount represents a value of 51 cents per ton of cane.
The formula considers the total amount of cane milled, total fiber extracted from the cane, and the percentage of that fiber which is used to generate power for sale (29 percent of the total amount of fiber that amounts to little over 48,000 tons of fibre).
International companies such as Green Paper Products and Bhumi Products have defined bagasse as a “natural by-product” of the sugar refining industry. The sentiment is shared by refineries the world over. Bagasse is also used to make items such as cups, bowls, paper, kitchen utensils and is being researched as an alternative option for fuel.