By Benjamin Flowers
At a heated press conference on Wednesday, officers of the Belize Cane Farmers Association (BSCFA) denounced the management of the Belize Sugar Industries (BSI) for side-stepping the association and deciding instead to deal directly with cane farmers.
BSI decided on this route after months of negotiations with the BSCFA proved futile.
“We denounce that action that they are taking because we find that it is extremely dangerous,” Oscar Alonzo, Chief Executive Officer said. He added that the route BSI is taking is not in the best interests of cane farmers.
“They are trying to pit farmers against farmers, to destroy the Association and…are trying to weaken our negotiating power by creating a divide between the farmers”, he said.
Alonzo said despite the tactic, he feels confident that the association will get majority support from cane farmers at a general meeting this weekend.
Earlier this week BSI announced at a press conference that it would accept sugar cane from individual farmers, reaping groups or new associations willing to deliver cane to start the 2014-2015 crop. The company has begun meeting with the farmers over terms and conditions of the new arrangement. It has cane given cane farmers until November 28 to register and sign the document.
Last year the BSCGA delayed the grinding season for a month, resulting in millions of dollars being lost -something the company is determined to avoid this time.
According to Belizario Carballo, Chief Financial Controller for BSI, the move is not an attempt to usurp the BSCFA, but rather to ensure that the crop is not delayed, which will in turn benefit farmers.
“We do not foresee any prospect in the near future of being able to secure an agreement with the BSCFA on behalf of all sugar cane farmers,” Carballo said.
Mack McLachlan, vice-president of international relations for American Sugar Refineries, who flew in from the US for the BSI press conference, explained that the move was necessary because of the stalemate.
“We tried very hard to come to an agreement in order to move the crop forward, but we are here—as the statement said—less than a month away from the opening of the crop and it is essential this time that we start to coordinate that crop because we cannot afford to have another late start.”
BSI emphasized that the agreement it proposes comes with a 65 percent net revenue share for cane farmers, and includes a payment for bagasse, as well. But BSI wants farmers to agree that once they sell the sugarcane, the residual bagasse belongs to the buyer, not the seller. Under this deal, canefarmers will have to sign an agreement, relinquishing any claim to ownership over the bagasse, once the cane is sold, unlike the old agreement which was in force before American Sugar Refiners came on the scene.
Meanwhile, Alonzo indicated that he also feels compelled to look ahead, since BSI’s contract to sell sugar to Tate & Lyle expires in 2015, with a shift in the European Union regime coming in 2017.
Both parties have emphasized that they are willing to continue their dialogue to try to reach agreement.