BELIZE CITY, Thurs. Nov. 5, 2020– On November 2, 2020, ASR/BSI officially launched the Belize Smart Sugarcane Cluster Project, a digital platform that will make information readily available to all the stakeholders in the sugarcane industry, and will especially help the 5,200 farmers who grow most of the cane that the Tower Hill factory converts to sugar for export and to supply local needs.
BSI (Belize Sugar Industries Ltd.) says the Belize Smart Sugar Cane Project, which received approximately US$365,000 in start-up funding from the Compete Caribbean Partnership Facility, will transform the sugar industry by introducing an innovative digital agro-credit, farm-service business platform that will provide direct, online links between the Tower Hill Sugar Mill and credit suppliers and the farmers, who will be able to carry out transactions through the platform. The project is being led by BSI and includes, among others, the Development Finance Corporation and Heritage Bank.
The pilot project aims “to vastly reduce lending risk by providing agro credit through service provision which is repaid from revenue from the cane crop directly through the mill.” Collaborating farmers will “receive structured credit facilities, which they could monitor throughout the crop cycle through a ‘Shuga Wallet’ on their mobile phones and computers.”
BSI says the project will help all the small-scale sugarcane farmers, 1800 of them women, improve management and productivity of their fields. Linking agro-credit through service provision will increase competitiveness, BSI says, and “it will build trust among and between the members of the business cluster group by establishing verifiable, traceable and transparent information for the financing sector.”
The sugarcane farmers of Corozal and Orange Walk have been beset by low prices for their cane, high cost of production, and a recent drought, and now they also have to adapt to changes in the environment as the climate becomes more unpredictable. Climate change will bring more flooding and droughts and the farmers will have to become more proficient at producing sugarcane, and hope for better prices if they will thrive.
A research paper, “Building the Adaptive Capacity of Sugarcane Farmers in Northern Belize”, which was sponsored by the Green Climate Fund and was presented in June 2019 by the Caribbean Community Climate Change Center (CCCCC, or 5Cs), says soil analyses done by SIRDI (Sugar Industry Research and Development Institute) show that “soil organic content and macro nutrients are severely depleted within the sugarcane lands in northern Belize.” The study attributes the soil depletion to the burning of sugarcane fields (before and after harvest), which besides reducing soil fertility “also contributes to increases in froghopper.”
The paper says that sugarcane is grown on approximately 70,000 acres in the Corozal and Orange Walk districts in over 53 rural communities (29 in Corozal and 24 in Orange Walk), and it provides direct employment to 11% of the Belizean workforce and contributes to 34% of agricultural GDP. The CCCCC paper further says that sugarcane farmers are facing challenges that are beyond their historical coping range, challenges that must be urgently addressed.
The CCCCC said the farmers urgently need “investment programmes that would provide suitable and sustainable responses to current and future climate-related challenges.” Hopefully, the Belize Smart Sugarcane Cluster Project will provide the opportunities for the farmers, so that they can access the resources and knowledge they so urgently need to address climate change and all the other problems they face at this time.