The future of the BSCFA is looking increasingly bleak, after ASR/BSI signed cane purchase agreements with associations who have committed to commence the delivery of cane as soon as the mill says it is ready. The factory has stated that upon receipt of guarantees of at least five hundred thousand tons of cane, they will open the gates.
On Thursday morning ASR/BSI signed with the Corozal Sugar Cane Producers Association, which is an amalgamation with the United Cane Farmers Association. That association has pledged that they will deliver 100,000 tons of cane. At 4:45pm the company signed with the Progressive Cane Farmers Association, comprised of the Patchakan, Guinea Grass and San Estevan branches. That association has pledge 300,000 tons, but has promised that perhaps by Friday they can up that pledge to 400,000 tons.
BSI grows its own cane and will also sign on to the agreement, a total tonnage of 151,000 tons.
The BSCFA has also indicated to BSI via letter that with signatures of over three thousand farmers, they are prepared to sign the agreement as it currently stands. That will likely happen within the next few days.
On Thursday Orange Walk Branch Director, Alfredo Ortega, flanked by the BSCFA Finance Committee Chairman, Javier Keme and attorney Audrey Matura-Shepherd, held a joint press conference with the NTUCB. The Congress, an umbrella for eight workers’ unions, has stated that it is prepared to offer moral support to farmers, “as well as the knowledge of its many members.” Many of those members, along with the executive body of the NTUCB, were present.
According to the head table, more than anything it is an opportunity for the aggrieved members of the BSCFA to seek unity among the farmers, even in the face of despair. Although a majority of farmers have agreed to sign on with ASR/BSI, Ortega maintains that it is under duress. He told the gathering on Thursday that Prime Minister Dean Barrow is responsible, stating that “if the leader of the nation is not prepared to help them…if the leader of the nation is not prepared to take care of the cane farming community…he is not prepared to look after the Belizean people, then we are cornered, and the only choice we have is to sign.”
Attorney Audrey Matura-Shepherd takes issue with the Prime Minister for what she says was deliberate misinformation at his press conference held last week Thursday. At that conference the Prime Minister stated categorically that the legal action taken against the SICB is an illegal bid, since the Act has been described as unconstitutional in a Supreme Court order. Matura-Shepherd says the matter never made it to hearing because the parties agreed to terms, and so the PM is just plain wrong.
The issues in the industry just seem to keep getting more complicated, even as there is some movement towards the start of crop. While there is still some degree of unrest among farmers, it is still expected that crop could start as early as the end of next week.