By Aaron Humes
SAN ROMAN, COROZAL DISTRICT, Sun. Jul. 20, 2014
The Sugar Industry Control Board (SICB) will be asked to intervene in the commercial agreement dispute between cane farmers and sugar product producers after the farmers’ latest rejection of what the producers say is their final offer.
At a special general meeting held in the Escuela Mexico Auditorium in San Roman, Corozal, on Sunday, over 900 cañeros told their management to reject an August 1st deadline set by Belize Sugar Industries Limited (BSI).
The BSI/ASR offer is for a formula that takes 15 percent of the sugar price paid to farmers (which was $74.20 last year), and multiply it by the amount of fibre used to produce the energy sold to Belize Electricity Limited (over 48,000 for 2013).
That amount is then divided by the total tons of cane delivered, which for last year’s crop would yield a payment of more than $550,000.
This would amount to roughly 51 cents for every ton of cane.
It is generally accepted that only 15 percent of the cane stalk produces the fibre, which is extracted from the bagasse, the left over material after sugar and molasses have been drawn out of the cane.
The Belize Sugar Cane Farmers’ Association (BSCFA) has based its calculations on the total remainder of the cane stalk after material for sugar and molasses is processed out – what is known as “bagasse.”
During the discussion, cañeros attacked the BSI proposals. One woman said it wouldn’t be enough to pay for the soap used to wash the cañeros’ clothes when they get dirty in the field.
This is an example of what BSCFA Vice-Chairman Alfredo Ortega says characterizes the farmers’ feelings, that they are completely disrespected by the offer, which is well below what they feel is reasonable and is not backed by any audited figures.
Ortega says that BSI has not done enough to justify its proposal, while the BSCFA took into consideration their claim that they would not be able to recover their investment in BELCOGEN of $130 million.
The Association’s calculations set the price at around $10.62, but they would take as low as $6.50.
Meanwhile, BSI says any payment above the $550,000 they have calculated would harm the company and the industry.
A deadline of October 15 has been set to conclude the entire commercial agreement between the two, with the outside possibility of court action, which BSI seems to favor.
The Association has spent more than $130,000 on acquiring legal and expert services to fight its case and the farmers approved a further $50,000 to be spent.
Negotiations started in 2012 and accelerated after the farmers’ public demands and threats not to start the crop season at the end of 2013.
BSCFA addresses internal issues
Meanwhile, six persons have been fired and between them must pay back $78,000 in stolen monies from the funds of the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers’ Association.
Three of them have paid their amounts and the others face legal action in the courts to recover.
Ortega says there have been measures taken by the Association to restore compliance with FLOCERT, the organization that manages the affairs of members of the Fairtrade block that sells products that emphasize proper business practice.
This is the second suspension of the BSCFA from FLOCERT, and the organization has 30 days to formally respond and get the suspension lifted.
Another pressing issue is the matter of child labour in the cane fields.
Cane farming is really a way of life in the North and the Association, Ortega notes, must be on watch to ensure that an average day’s trip to the fields does not result in little ones doing all the work.