Uncategorized — 14 January 2014 — by Kareem Clarke
Adjustments, modifications, more adjustments, more modifications!

Sugar compromise in the works – cane farmers meet to discuss BSI’s counterproposal

Sugar cane farmers are desperately trying to chart a way forward in the ongoing bagasse dispute between themselves and the factory owners, Belize Sugar Industries (BSI), although some uncertainty still looms over Belize’s sugar industry at this point in time.

Last Wednesday, January 8, a “fruitful” meeting between BSI and the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association (BSCFA) created optimism for the industry’s stakeholders, and yesterday, Sunday, January 12, the association and its executives met with well over a thousand resolute cane farmers and they heatedly discussed the Interim Agreement which was laid out between the BSCFA and BSI.

At the meeting with BSI on Wednesday, the BSCFA had submitted an Interim Agreement to BSI by means of a proposal which the cane farmers put forward in hopes of reaching a compromise between the two parties. The first point on that agreement called for a commitment by BSI to pay for bagasse. BSI took that agreement, made some modifications, and on Friday, January 10, it was sent back to the BSCFA.

But still, there was no commitment by BSI to pay for bagasse, which is really the crux of the matter. The BSCFA was not satisfied with those modifications; therefore, they made their own adjustments and sent it back to BSI.

Late Friday evening, BSI provided the association with a response; however, according to the vice chairman of the BSCFA, Alfredo Ortega, they (BSCFA) were not in agreement with the way in which the language was phrased, so they sent back that version of BSI’s amendment.

Yesterday, with no legally binding commitment in hand, the BSCFA met with their general membership meeting to report all the new developments to them.

During the meeting, which took place at the La Escuela Secundaria Tecnica Mexico in San Roman Village, Corozal, they energetically vented their feelings about the negotiations. Many of the cañeros were of the opinion that BSI has no intention of paying them for the bagasse, and were very skeptical of the proposals that were introduced by BSI. Also, several motions were brought up by different cañeros, but many of them were struck down before they could have gone any further.

After the meeting – which lasted from morning well into the afternoon – Alfredo Ortega told the media that the final motion that was passed by the farmers was that they (the cañeros) would approve the Interim Agreement that was sent by BSI and that they would meet with BSI today, Monday, to sign that agreement after which they are supposed to decide on the date for the start of the 2013/2014 sugar cane crop season.

Ortega explained that there were mixed emotions among the farmers, but they were all determined to come to an agreement with BSI, hence they supported the motion on the condition that BSI acts in good faith and that there would be a payment for bagasse.

According to Ortega, the BSCFA plans to send a letter to Prime Minister Dean Barrow as well, so that he could address the issue of the dilapidated sugar roads.

Ortega stated, “We will be sending a letter to the Prime Minister because, as you know, at this point our sugar roads are still in bad condition and some of them are in much worse condition than they were in just two weeks ago. We are going to inform him that we have reached an agreement on the start of the crop season; however, we need the road to be fixed so that we can then talk about a date on which we can possibly start the crop season.”

In relation to the sacrifice that the farmers have made in delaying the start of the season despite being in dire straits, Ortega stated, “Many of our farmers are facing a major hurdle at this time, but we are trying to mitigate the situation as best as possible.”

He also mentioned that the incessant bad weather and the conditions of the road have made it impossible for the farmers to even go and check their crop.

In the meantime, he said, the BSCFA will be “pushing toward” a payment for bagasse as the farmers – many of whom are indebted and struggling to maintain their families – hope for the best while trying to “pinch” whatever stipends they have in order to sustain themselves and their loved ones while the start of a sugarcane crop season is on hold.

The BSCFA is now expected to have a second meeting with BSI today, Monday, to set a new mandate on the status of this crop season, which will hopefully start this Thursday.

In a press release issued today, the Office of the Prime Minister said that repairs to the roads would commence immediately, to a tune of $2 million.

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