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Cane farmers reject paltry bagasse payment

Alfredo Ortega (Vice Chair., BSCFA)

Bagasse

Bagasse

Monday, July 21, 2013. AARON HUMES Reporting: At Sunday’s special general meeting in the Corozal District, over 900 caneros told their management to reject an August 1 deadline set by producers Belize Sugar Industries Limited (BSI) to accept what they consider a paltry offer on the payment for bagasse.

The BSI/ASR offer is for 51 cents for every ton of fiber used from the cane stalk.

The matter, says vice-president for the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers’ Association (BSCFA), is now going to the Sugar Industry Control Board as the third leg of sugar management.

According to Alfredo Ortega, farmers feel completely disrespected by the offer, which is well below what they feel is reasonable and is not backed by any audited figures.

And that, says Ortega, means that BSI has not done enough to justify its proposals.

Negotiations started in 2012 and accelerated after the farmers’ public demands and threats not to start the crop season at the end of 2013.

The Association’s calculations set the price at around $10.62 but they are willing to take a lot more than 51 cents.

Meanwhile BSI says any payment above the $500,000 they have calculated would harm the company and the industry.

Alfredo Ortega (Vice Chair., BSCFA)

Alfredo Ortega
(Vice Chair., BSCFA)

But exactly what is BSI contemplating? We asked Ortega to draw the difference between the BSI’s proposals and those of the BSCFA.

Their proposal calls for the farmers to be paid collectively on the tonnage of fiber drawn from the bagasse, which is the left over material after sugar and molasses have been drawn out and which has been used to power the BELCOGEN co-generation plant at the BSI factory in Tower Hill.

A deadline of October 15 has been set to conclude the entire commercial agreement between the two, with the outside possibility of court action, which BSI seems to favor.

The Association has spent more than $130,000 on acquiring legal and expert services to fight its case and the farmers approved a further $50,000 to be spent.

Meanwhile, six persons have been fired and between them must pay back $78,000 in stolen monies from the funds of the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers’ Association.

Three of them have paid their amounts and the others face legal action in the courts to recover.

Ortega says there have been measures taken by the Association to restore compliance with FLOCERT, the organization that manages the affairs of members of the Fairtrade block that sells products that emphasize proper business practice.

This is the second suspension of the BSCFA from FLOCERT, and the organization has 30 days to formally respond and get the suspension lifted.

Another pressing issue is the matter of child labour in the cane fields.

Cane farming is really a way of life in the North and the Association, Ortega notes, must be on watch to ensure that an average day’s trip to the fields does not result in little ones doing all the work.

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