Features — 10 December 2013 — by Kareem Clarke

As we draw nearer to December 15, which the experts have deemed as the latest possible date to get the sugar cane crop season underway without the stakeholders suffering major losses, Belize’s Prime Minister – turned mediator – Hon. Dean Barrow, is earnestly trying get both the sugar company, BSI/ASR, and the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association (BSCFA) that represents over 5,000 local sugar cane farmers back to the negotiating table so they can hammer out an agreement on the bagasse issue and get the crop season underway.

As we reported earlier, the sugar cane farmers are demanding to be paid a percentage of the income that BSI/ASR makes from the bagasse, which is used to produce electricity that is sold to BEL. The farmers are saying that unless there is an agreement for them to be paid for the bagasse they will not deliver cane to the factory. The cane farmers insist that the bagasse is a by-product of the cane, a by-product that is used to produce electricity that is then sold to BEL for millions of dollars.

Meanwhile, the sugar company has refused to comply with the farmers’ demands, saying that they (BSI/ASR) have the right to do whatever they wish with the sugar cane that they buy from the cane farmers. BSI/ASR insists that the bagasse is a waste product, and they say that if the farmers want to be paid for the bagasse then they should take the matter to court.

On Monday, December 2, the Prime Minister met with the senior members of the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association (BSCFA) at the Belize Biltmore Plaza Hotel, and they agreed that the farmers should get paid for bagasse, since it has a value – a value that is translating into millions of dollars for BSI/ASR.

Today, the Prime Minister met with the representatives of BSI/ASR, and when he emerged from that meeting, he told the media what was discussed. It appears a solution has still not been found.

PM Barrow said, “We’ve put our position to ASR, they will now reflect on that, consult among themselves and give us an answer in the shortest possible time.”

Until BSI/ASR responds, the PM said he is unable to say what their mindset is.

“We had a frank discussion, but I don’t even know if those that are here can make the decision on their own; I believe that there are other principals with whom they must speak before they give us a final answer,” Barrow told reporters.

Since the proposed December 15 deadline is only six days away, the Prime Minister said that they expect the decision sooner rather than later, because time is of the essence and they need the crop to start as early as possible.

As a matter of fact, Barrow said that the December 15 deadline may very well be a “vain hope” because he is not sure if it is possible for the crop to start by then considering the recent weather conditions. He stated, “I don’t think December 15 is on, anyway you look at it.”

He asserted that he might have another meeting with the ASR representatives depending on what is their (ASR’s) position, but affirmed that there will certainly have to be another meeting between GOB and the cane farmers association because he will have to convey ASR’s position to the farmers in order for there to be any possibility of starting a crop.

The PM noted that it is a complicated process with several steps, but GOB will have to proceed and “press on” in order to find a resolution.

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