Headline — 18 July 2014 — by Kareem Clarke
Cane farmers to meet on BSI “ultimatum” this Sunday

Last Tuesday, July 8, the delayed 2013/2014 sugar season concluded with all sugar milling targets having been met, but still, it is certainly not a jubilant time for local sugar cane farmers who are currently in limbo as it relates to their proposed cut of the bagasse profits. The farmers plan to congregate in San Roman Village in Corozal this Sunday, to discuss a number of issues, including what steps will be taken to address the troublesome bagasse negotiations.

The cane farmers deliberately delayed the start of the crop season in order to pressure the factory owners, Belize Sugar Industries/American Sugar Refineries (BSI/ASR), to come to the table to work out a reasonable quantum of payment for bagasse, the much-valued sugar cane by-product, and those discussions were supposed to be completed by the end of the crop season last Tuesday.

However, the unsettled bagasse issue continuously hovers over the embattled industry, since the farmers and factory owners still can’t agree on a final price for bagasse payments.

The current impasse stems from the fact that BSI is offering the farmers 51 cents per ton of cane delivered; however, the cane farmers’ association is not prepared to agree to anything less than $4 per ton.

This past Tuesday, BSI issued a press release advising the farmers to accept the 51 cents for the benefit of the industry, but the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association (BSCFA) views the proposal as “utter disrespect” to the local cañeros, citing that BSI basically is giving them (the farmers) an ultimatum instead of trying to negotiate a fair resolution with them.

In the release, which was addressed to the BSCFA’s Committee of Management, BSI’s Chief Financial Officer, Belizario Carballo, stated, “Even though the Interim Agreement has now expired, BSI, in a spirit of good faith, does advise that its offer for a payment for bagasse made during the negotiations (specifically described on the Appendix to this letter) will remain open through 5:00 p.m. on Friday, August 1, 2014.

“Furthermore, BSI advises that if the offer is accepted by BSCFA within such period and subject to concluding a new agreement, BSI is prepared to make the payment for bagasse retroactive for the 2013/14 crop.”

On January 13, BSI and BSCFA – via an uneasy truce – signed an interim agreement in which both parties agreed to negotiate on a number of items, including a quantum for bagasse, before the end of this crop season, but that time has come and gone, and as yet a settlement is nowhere on the horizon, which basically means that the agreement was breached.

The 51 cents per ton of cane BSI is offering to cane farmers is based on a valuation of the quantity of fiber in cane used to generate electricity sold by BELCOGEN to the Belize Electricity Limited, and BSI is of the opinion that the methodology they used is both transparent and verifiable.

At the same time, the company claims that the BSCFA leadership has not presented a clearly articulated and reasoned method of calculation which supports their quantum payment proposal, but of course, the BSCFA says otherwise.

Nevertheless, the BSCFA has agreed to at least take BSI’s offer back to the general membership of farmers this Sunday, and we understand that representatives of the company are requesting to be included in the agenda so that they could get an opportunity to address cane farmers personally, but the BSCFA has not responded to their request as yet.

Regardless of whether that request is granted, it will be interesting to see how the general membership of the BSCFA react to BSI’s “take it or leave it” proposal.

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