Features — 09 January 2015 — by Adele Ramos
Cañeros grapple with Fairtrade money troubles

ORANGE WALK–Over 5,300 cañeros have issued a demand to their leadership to apportion to them $4 million, despite warnings from executives and officials of their association, the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association (BSCFA), that this would soon lead to them being decertified by the European program known as Fairtrade, under which they are paid a premium for Belize sugar.

The premium payments are supposed to be used for programs to improve production. It so happened, though, that cañeros, some claiming financial hardships but others apparently suspicious that the office staff and executive are “living high” on the Fairtrade funds, issued a demand to their organization at their General Assembly meeting on Sunday to distribute $4 million set aside for projects to them.

With 5,350 farmers sharing that pie, it means that each one would only be getting about $750.

Pointing to the Fairtrade money troubles at a press conference today, as well as what he said is the imminent fracturing of the organization due to an impasse which has delayed the start of this year’s crop, Prime Minister Dean Barrow, who held a press conference today to announce Government’s position on the current impasse in the sugar industry, said that as “a matter of objective consequences” the BFCSA will be left “high and dry” and “flat broke!”

Ezequiel Cansino, chairman of the BSCFA’s Committee of Management, said that the sharing of the Fairtrade funds will surely lead to the association being decertified by Fairtrade.

“That’s why we were trying to explain to the cane farmers, trying to change their mind, but they said that they want their money. They said the years before they worked without Fairtrade,” Cansino explained.

Farmers had shared $2.5 million from the Fairtrade reserve fund last month—monies that were set aside after Fairtrade announced that it would be taking only 10,000 tons of sugar under the program. Cansino said that they laid off 11 program staff in November 2014 because of that announcement, and they will have to lay off another 16 with the disbursement of the $4 mil to the farmers. They will only be able to keep 6 staff for the child labor project, said Cansino, who told us that the association is broke.

“It is automatic that we need to lay off the employees if we no longer have projects,” said Cansino.

He said that the 18 directors of BSCFA and the finance committee had met to review the financial situation and had advised cañeros that they could disburse $1.5 mil which they had on reserve for the Fairtrade funds to them without touching the $4 mil set aside for programs, but the farmers maintained their demand that they, the farmers, should share the $4 million.

Ortega said that every year they are audited by Flocert for Fairtrade, and they are coming to Belize again this year to visit farms and the office in order to check compliance with Fairtrade rules.

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