Government steps in to settle production dispute in sugar industry ahead of crop opening

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Posted: Tuesday, December 29, 2020. 1:28 p.m. CST.

By Aaron Humes: Trucks rumble to the factory on Tower Hill just outside Orange Walk Town as another zafra begins in the sugar industry.

Estimates of between 1.25 and 1.35 million tonnes of sugar cane in the fields have been released as the four major associations and American Sugar Refining/Belize Sugar Industries Limited (ASR/BSI) squabble over who will deliver how much over the next six months.

A drought last year reduced deliveries to just under 900,000 tons, but production has rebounded despite recent rains and flooding from hurricane activity Eta and Iota in November.

The dispute threatened to escalate into industrial action by the largest association, the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers’ Association (BSCFA), requiring the intervention of the Minister of Agriculture, Food Security and Enterprise, Jose Abelardo May.

This morning BSCFA Director General Oscar Alonzo told us that the compromise reached at Sunday’s meeting of the Sugar Industry Control Board (SICB), now authorized by the Production Committee sub-committee of sugar cane (SCPC), is not necessarily “equal” for farmers, but fairer.

The BSCFA also maintains its request for information on production listed in the register of sugar cane growers to be shared among all associations, rather than each association obtaining information on its list of cañeros.

It is a “sliding scale” of quotas for farmers that more accurately takes into account their losses last year and what is available this year.

The solution proposed by the ASR/BSI and the small associations – an addition of 30% at all levels as well as other coefficients – has proven to be unfair, especially for small farmers, said Mai, because they s expected to reap the benefits of a bumper recovery crop this year.

The Minister is himself a sugar producer and revealed that of the 681 tonnes available last year, he delivered just under 300 tonnes, a loss of 57%. Some farmers were unable to deliver cane at all.

The new formula allows the farmers who have lost the most to deliver a reasonable quota of 60% of their production this year, reduced according to the percentage of delivery in installments and putting the farmers more or less on the same page.

By virtue of having more fields and farmers, Orange Walk District will supply more cane than Corozal.

Regarding ASR/BSI’s early complaints that farmers will have to maintain deliveries to maintain a milling rate of 5,500 tonnes of cane per day, Alonzo said BSI must be aware that farmers are still facing to inhospitable road and weather conditions, and as long as these improve, the mill will receive its rod in time.

The season is expected to last, weather permitting, until mid-June 2021.


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