General — 10 January 2014 — by Kareem Clarke

It’s January 2014, and the cane season still hasn’t started; what’s worse is, no one can say for sure when, or if, it will start. A part of the reason is the heavy rains that have been pummeling the country since last August, but the largest part of it is the still-simmering dispute between the cane farmers and BSI/ASR over payments for bagasse.

The latest timetable projected that the season must start on January 15, 2014; however, the stalemate between the cane farmers and the factory owners continues, so the season will more than likely not begin on that date.

The latest point of contention between both sides is that BSI wants to negotiate with the farmers on a payment for bagasse, but the farmers want them to put it in writing that a payment will be made before any meaningful negotiations can begin.

That fairly fundamental difference prompted a meeting last Friday, January 3, among the branch chairmen of the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association (BSCFA), who convened to discuss the latest letter to the association from BSI on New Year’s Eve. They also discussed an MOU that is in the works to be presented to the Prime Minister; which the BSFCA said will be beneficial to all parties.

After that meeting last week, the 18 branch representatives of the BSCFA voted to bring BSI in to talk once again, even though BSI has failed to provide a legally binding commitment to pay for bagasse.

The BSFCA will propose that they meet with BSI this Wednesday, after which they will return to their general membership to report to them on the status of the negotiations. The BSCFA and BSI are thus expected to go back to the negotiating table in Orange Walk tomorrow afternoon, but no one is sure how long discussions will take. Alfredo Ortega, Vice-Chairman of the BSCFA, told the media last Friday, however, that he isn’t confident that they will meet the imposed January 15th deadline.

Whether a resolution to the long-standing impasse will result from Wednesday’s meeting is hard to say at this point. But it is understood that both parties need the crop season to get underway, sooner rather than later.

We understand that there are farmers who are indebted to local banks, and those farmers are agitating for a speedy resolution. But the majority is still committed to the stance of not budging until BSI is legally bound.

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