Sugar Cane Season set to start after long standoff between cañeros and BSI/ASR
Thursday, January 22nd, 2015
The 2015 Sugar Cane Season is finally set to start after the two parties in the industry – the cañeros and Belize Sugar Industry/American Sugar Refinery BSI/ASR) signed on to a commercial agreement which now gives the green light to declare the crop open. This brings to end two months of standoff and uncertainty in the sugar industry. It was the longest delay in the sugar industry and one that has caused the splintering of the over 55-year-old organization, Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association (BSCFA).
Before the signing of the agreement, over 2000 cane farmers broke away from the BSCFA to form two new associations; the Corozal Sugar Cane Producers Association and the Progressive Cane Farmers Association. The two newly formed associations went ahead to sign a seven-year agreement with BSI/ASR for the delivery of sugarcane, leaving behind the BSCFA and it remaining 3000 plus members. Without the BSCFA onboard, the crop was uncertain. A breakthrough came when, in an emergency meeting of the BSCFA on Sunday January 18th, the assembly of the general membership moved that the organization sign on to the agreement- even though the cane farmers were not happy. By Monday, January 19th, BSCFA and BSI/ASR met to sign the agreement in Orange Walk Town. The signing of the agreement was necessary for the milling company, who needed assurance from the various associations for the delivery of at least 1.1 million tons of sugarcane.
The main point of the agreement is to have a seven-year instead of three-year commercial contract between the cane farmers and the milling company based on a fixed commercial price of sugar. But cane farmers believe that because there will be a shift from the preferential market to an open market in the European Union, and due to the uncertainty of the market after next year, they wanted a shorter agreement. However, BSI stuck to their guns, and with the support of the Government of Belize through Prime Minister Barrow, they reached out to the cane farmers who had broke away from the BSCFA.
The signing of the agreement by BSCFA came on the heels of the Meeting of the House of Representative on Monday January 19th in which the Government of PM Barrow introduced a bill to amend the Belize Sugar Industry Act. Basically the act was enforcing a constitutional reality which the United Cane Farmers Association challenged and won five years ago in the Supreme Court of Belize. The amended act now recognizes that farmers are free to associate or form any group they wish. In other words, they don’t have to be members of the BSCFA to deliver sugar cane.
While PM Barrow defended the bill introduced in the National Assembly, the Opposition took the opportunity to accuse the government of dividing the association for political manipulation of the industry. Despite vigorous protests from the opposition, including a walkout of the national assembly, the bill was introduced for first reading and passed through all its stages on the same day without customary consultation.
With the two major hurdles cleared, the crop is set to start on the week of January 26th. Farmers, who faced the longest delay in the history of the sugar industry, have to race to deliver their 1.4 million tons of cane before the rainy season. During the next few days, the various associations and the milling company will have to go over the logistics as to how delivery will be made since for the first time, multiple associations will be allowed to deliver their crop.
The division of the BSCFA is seen by the cane farmers as the biggest blow to the cane industry in recent history. The only other significant impact in the sugar industry in Belize were the closure of the Libertad Sugar Factory – Petrojam twice, between1984-1989 and 1993-1998 under the government of former UDP Prime Minister Rt. Hon. Dr. Manuel Esquivel. Since then, that factory has remained closed, burying with it the Corozal District economy, which was the largest sugar producing district.
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