By Marion V. Ali
A meeting is set for Friday in Orange Walk between Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Agriculture, Gaspar Vega and representatives from the various cane farmers associations to discuss, among other things, a proposal by the cane farmers to double the price of sugar locally.
Cane farmers have asked for an increase in the price of locally produced sugar to help fill the void that falling international prices will bring about this crop season.
The 1,100 members of the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association (BSCFA), who attended the Annual General Meeting last Sunday, passed a resolution which seeks to double the price of sugar in Belize, from 50 cents to $1.
But while this is the consensus, some of the members suggested that their representatives take a stronger approach with the Belize Sugar Industries, American Sugar Refinery (BSI/ASR) to see if they would increase the first payment for cane. But BSI/ASR have said they have no control over the price, which is derived from the European Union (EU).
The problem arose when the cane farmers discovered that the payment they will receive per ton of cane delivered to the factory will be cut by almost half, from around $75 to $41.56 per ton, making it difficult for many of them to meet loan commitments and other expenses associated with cane production. In fact, the actual amount cane farmers will collect in their first payment will be $35, half of what they did just a year ago, because they will be paid the difference per ton later on in the season.
BSI, meanwhile, in responding to a request from the various cane farmers associations in Orange Walk and Corozal, including the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association (BSCFA), laid out out the terms for the first payment. The farmers had asked for BSI to lobby for a better price than the $35 per ton, but BSI indicated that the decision was already made.
The concern that some farmers have raised is that even if the price of sugar goes up in Belize, consumers will find some cheaper way to cut down on their use of the commodity, which would mean cane farmers may still not realize the difference in collections they are looking for.
Brown sugar currently sells for 50 cents per pound, while white sugar sells for 75 cents per pound – prices which officials in the Ministry of Agriculture say have not changed for at least 10 years.