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Government steps in to settle production dispute in sugar industry ahead of crop opening 

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Posted: Tuesday, December 29, 2020. 1:28 pm CST.

By Aaron Humes: The trucks are rumbling up to the Tower Hill Factory just outside of Orange Walk Town as another zafra begins in the sugar industry. 

Estimates of between 1.25 and 1.35 million tonnes of sugar cane in the fields have been put out as the four major associations and American Sugar Refining/Belize Sugar Industries Limited (ASR/BSI) haggle over who gets to deliver how much over the course of the next six months. 

A drought last year lowered deliveries to just under 900 thousand tons, but the production has rebounded despite recent rains and flooding caused by hurricane activity from Eta and Iota in November. 

The dispute threatened to turn into industrial action on the part of the largest association, the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers’ Association (BSCFA), necessitating intervention on the part of Minister for Agriculture, Food Security and Enterprise, Jose Abelardo Mai. 

This morning, BSCFA chief executive officer, Oscar Alonzo, told us that the compromise reached at Sunday’s meeting of the Sugar Industry Control Board (SICB), now authorized by the sub-committee Sugar Cane Production Committee (SCPC), is not necessarily “equal” for farmers, but more equitable. 

The BSCFA is also maintaining its demand for information on production listed in the Cane Farmers Register to be shared among all the associations, rather than each association getting information on their roster of cañeros. 

It involves a “sliding scale” of quotas for farmers that takes more accurately into account their losses last year and what is available this year. 

The solution proposed by ASR/BSI and smaller associations – a 30 percent addition across the board along with other coefficients – proved unfair, especially to smaller farmers, said Mai, as they were expecting to reap the benefits of a bumper recovery crop this year. 

The Minister is a sugar farmer himself and disclosed that of 681 tons available last year, he delivered just under 300 tons, a 57 percent loss. Some farmers were unable to deliver cane at all. 

The new formula allows farmers who lost the most to deliver a reasonable quota of 60 percent of their production this year, reduced according to delivery percentage in bands and putting farmers more or less on the same page. 

By virtue of having more fields and farmers, Orange Walk District will deliver more cane than Corozal. 

As for early complaints from ASR/BSI that farmers will need to keep up deliveries to maintain a milling rate of 5,500 tons of cane per day, Alonzo said BSI must be aware that farmers are still dealing with inhospitable road and weather conditions, and as long as these improve, the mill will get its cane on time. 

The season is expected to last, weather permitting, until the middle of June 2021. 

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