ORANGE WALK–Although there might have been a breakthrough resolution in an effort to get the sugar industry back on its feet during a crucial meeting between the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association (BSCFA) and a fraction of its general membership last Sunday, December 14, there is still some cause for concern for members of the association because a majority of the farmers approved a motion to extract $2.5 million worth of Fairtrade funds to share equally amongst themselves.
After the meeting, the BSCFA executives expressed dire misgivings about the move, not only because the regulations of the Fairtrade program do not permit that kind of wanton spending, but more importantly, because the association only recently received the news that they are being reinstated by Fairtrade after a six-month suspension.
Chairman of the BSCFA Committee of Management, Ezequiel Cansino, who confirmed that the association has gotten a letter from Fairtrade stating that the suspension has been officially lifted, told us that the BSCFA has been certified up until the 2016/2017 sugarcane crop season, and that as soon as the Tower Hill factory operation starts to produce and export the sugar for the upcoming season, the cañeros will benefit from the distribution of those monies that have been allotted to the association as Fairtrade benefits.
Local cane farmers, however, are not in a position to wait around for that to materialize, and Alfredo Ortega, a member of the BSCFA negotiating team, conceded that while there is universal consternation amongst the leaders of the association, at the end of the day, the majority always rules in “cane country”.
“The economic situation is in a bad condition. The farmers have approved that they would want an amount that would be set aside…in regards to the Fairtrade premium. They would want $2.5 million to be distributed amongst themselves, so that they can have something for Christmas, and they have passed the motion. It is the farmers that approved, so that motion has gone through, and I believe that it will happen”, he uneasily declared.
Ortega mentioned that the funds will be granted in equal portions to each farmer, “no matter what was the amount that the farmer delivered”, and will be divided amongst the farmers who delivered cane last year. “If it is 5,300 [farmers that delivered], then the 2.5 million will be divided between 5,300 farmers”, he said.
When we spoke with Cansino, he was similarly troubled by the passing of the motion which BSCFA CEO, Oscar Alonzo, warned – during the meeting – is not something that Fairtrade endorses.
“I am very concerned about it because that’s lowering the standards of Fairtrade and they might have some precautions to us. Maybe, we should have stopped this motion, but the general assembly voted for that, and we will comply, even though we will have some problems with Fairtrade”, he cited.
“We as the leaders, we have tried to guide the process for the farmers to let them to understand what all needed to be done, and what is the expectation of the people that are out there that are buying our sugar under Fairtrade certification and what they would want to see happen with the investment of that premium; but notwithstanding that, it is only the voice of us trying to guide the process”, explained Alfredo Ortega, the former chair of the BSCFA Committee of Management.
Ezekiel Cansino noted that while the decision puts the association in a precarious position, the cañeros are the ones who make the ultimate ruling in terms of what happens with the Fairtrade money.