Headline — 22 November 2013 — by Adele Ramos
Sugar crop year delayed; roads “virtually impassable” due to rains

High-ranking sugar industry sources told Amandala this evening that the recent battering from torrential rains has rendered the sugar roads in northern Belize virtually impassable to delivery trucks, and even if parties disputing over how the million-dollar-pie earned from bagasse power generation were to reach an accord, farmers will still not be able to start the crop year on Monday, November 25, 2013, as had been planned.

Apart from having to contend with horrible roads, farmers would also have to contend with lower returns, since the sugar quality would be low, due to waterlogged fields.

Earlier this week, the Belize Sugar Industries (BSI) issued a statement, conceding that although the mill stands ready to start the crop on November 25, 2013, “it is appreciated that there are difficulties with roads and fields caused by the excessive rain and this start date may need to be delayed.”

Former Minister of Labour, Local Government and Rural Development, Gabriel Martinez, the chairman of the Sugar Industry Control Board, confirmed that the industry is presently at a standstill, when he told Amandala this evening that the roads are “in a terrible state” due to the rains and that even if farmers want to start the crop year, he does not think the roads will permit them to start.

Why has not Government intervened to fix the roads before Monday? Martinez said that, “As we speak, I don’t think any heavy equipment can get in. The roads are still waterlogged.”

Martinez said that it may be weeks before the roads can be used for cane delivery. He said that the north needs a week more of dry weather to be able to commence the crop.

Alfredo Ortega, vice president of the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association (BSCFA), confirmed to Amandala today that by all indications, farmers won’t be prepared to deliver cane on Monday because the sugar roads and main arteries to the BSI factory at Tower Hill, such as the road between Orange Walk and San Estevan, are in bad shape.

Ortega said the roads are currently impassable for trucks loaded with cane, and they “need some serious government intervention” – which is one of the crucial points they hope to make in their plea to Agriculture Minister Gaspar Vega, the Deputy Prime Minister, when they meet with him tomorrow.

Martinez confirmed to Amandala that he has received a letter from the BSCFA, requesting a meeting on Friday along with DPM Vega.

Meanwhile, cane farmers remain resolute in their demand to BSI that they want a share of the monies the company earns from the sale of power generated from bagasse cogeneration. That power is generated from the sugar cane wastes and apart from power being generated to run BSI’s operations, the company, through its subsidiary BELCOGEN, also sells power to the Belize Electricity Limited for the national grid.

Ortega said, however, that even if the sugar cane roads were passable, farmers would still not deliver cane Monday, because they have still not been able to hammer out a new agreement with BSI which would cover the proposed revenue-sharing for bagasse.

BSI has said that the cane farmers should not demand anything more since farmers already get paid for the sugar cane, and moreover, BSI said, the farmers did not invest in the cogeneration operation and so should not expect to get any additional returns.

Cane farmers reject that notion, however, and they are hoping that positive gains will be made to advance their stance at their meeting with Martinez and Vega tomorrow.

Asked whether he agrees that cane farmers should get a portion of revenues earned from the sale of power generated from bagasse, Martinez resisted our efforts to get him to weigh in – saying that in the case of a dispute between the farmers and the factory, the Sugar Industry Control Board serves as mediator, and so it has to remain impartial.

Martinez told us that both BSI and the farmers need to get back to the negotiating table. Cane farmers boycotted a meeting held on Tuesday, November 19, 2013, in Belize City, because they said that BSI refused to focus attention on the burning issue: sharing the millions BSI earns from bagasse cogeneration.

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