By Marion Ali
After four years of due diligence, followed by construction and planting of sugarcane, the mill at the Santander Sugar Company in Valley of Peace, Cayo, will begin to crush cane as early as March, Santander Chief Financial Officer, Andres Ayau said.
This will be a testing phase before Santander enters the competitive market, mainly in Europe.
This year, Ayau projected Santander will have a partial year, provided there is good weather conditions. “We are already in the commissioning phase of the project and we expect to begin crushing sugar cane within the next three weeks,” Ayau told reporters last Friday. He said the first full crop will occur in 2017, when Santander expects to crush 800,000 tons of sugar cane and produce roughly 80,000 tons of sugar. It also hopes to produce around 50,000 tons of molasses and contribute energy into the country’s power grid.
Ayau explained that most of the company’s sugar is earmarked for the European market, with firm offers for all its volume this year and part of its volume for next year. He boasted that Santander, which when fully completed, will have similar production outputs as the Tower Hill sugar factory, and will be “one of the most efficient sugar operations in the world. This operations is going to put Belize on the map as one of the most efficient countries of sugar production in the world.”
But while the company has not yet opened its doors for business, already it has made significant contributions to the Belizean economy, Ayau commented.
“We have currently over 900 workers; 700 of those are Belizeans. More important than just work and what we contributed in payroll, we’ve spent over…$80 million Belize dollars in local suppliers. That’s money put into your local economy. We have paid over US $3 million in taxes and social security contributions…only in the project development phase,” he said.
Ayau added that Santander is also striving for international certification in environmental and social standards, which will certify that the sugar meets all the international environmental and social standards required in Europe and other countries.
Nearing the close of his meeting with the media last Friday, Ayau clarified that contrary to popular belief, the Santander Sugar Group is in no way connected to the Santander Financial Group of Spain and that none of its investors or workers have any affiliation to any of those entities. He explained that the sugar company’s name was derived from the Santander region in Spain, where most of its shareholders originate from. He said the investors include Guatemalans, Spaniards, British, and Dominicans, and that some of them live in Belize.