Sugar Industry Control Board, Chairman Gabriel Martinez, has said that all parties agreed that there should be no delay of the sugar cane crop 2014/2015.
All parties have also agreed to go back to the negotiating table on the issue of the starting of the crop.
Chairman Martinez was very clear on one point: “The 8th of December was basically identified as the date, the ideal date to start crop, but that is not set.”
That statement came at the end of a meeting on Tuesday, November 25th, 2014, which lasted four hours.
Participants included representatives of the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association, Belize Sugar Industries and the Government of Belize.
“The decisions made in the meeting mean a lot for the industry,” said Martinez in a brief statement on Tuesday. He could not say at what point the negotiations between the BSCFA and BSI would commence, because he claims that situation is delicate and he would not want to jeopardize it.
There are many issues which have formed a basis for conflict between the factory and the farmers, but primarily it is about the ownership of the sugar-cane and a quantum of payment for bagasse. BSI says it must own the cane wholly in order to be able to negotiate the sale of sugar.
Farmers say they will not relinquish ownership of their cane at the factory gates, but will retain a partnership. BSI has offered a formula for payment of ‘fibre,’ the portion of the bagasse it says is used to generate electricity. Farmers have vehemently opposed the formula, both in terms of quantum, and in terms of the categorization of ‘fibre.’
The failure to reach a compromise has resulted in BSI announcing that it would be approaching reaping groups and individual farmers, by-passing the BSCFA.
That in turn led to the BSCFA summoning all eighteen branches of the Association to a general meeting on Saturday, November 15th, 2014. At that meeting the Sugar Industry Control Board, government’s regulatory body in the industry, announced publicly that it would be bringing the parties back to the negotiation table.
But is the impasse broken, or at least flexed? That is difficult to determine at this point, based on the few details coming out of the meeting held on Tuesday.
The REPORTER contacted the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association, which represents 18 branches with 5,500 cane-farmers, and they said they will hold their AGM on Sunday. Additionally, the BSCFA plans to meet with Prime Minister Dean Barrow on Friday, November 28, 2014.
BSCFA Chief Executive Officer, Oscar Alonzo said on Wednesday that, “We want the crop to start early, especially in view of the fact that it has been determined that there is about 1.475 million tons of cane out there that needs to be processed.” Weather permitting, the crop season would last 26 weeks, and the mill has a capacity of 1.35 million tons at full steam. Those figures mean that even if all factors fall into place, there will still be some cane left unprocessed. If any of the factors is out of whack, the losses grow proportionally.
The BSCFA stated they are willing to start the crop first and negotiate later. But there would like to have an agreement with government to purchase the sugarcane.
Alonzo says “We are trying to show that we are a responsible organization. We can resolve this issue around the table. We don’t have to resort to other means. But it appears that BSI has been adamant in trying to have the agreement their own way.”
With urgency growing, the BSCFA has tried to garner support from other organizations.
Alonzo says they met with the Rod of Correction, ROC, and activist groups, including unions.
On Friday, the BSCFA will meet with Prime Minister Dean Barrow. And on Sunday, November 30, 2014, the BSCFA will report to their membership for increased support and solidarity.
Alonzo maintains that coming out of that AGM, anything could happen, including a mass social protest.