Posted: Tuesday, December 21, 2021. 5:57 pm CST.
By Aaron Humes: Caught in the middle between the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association (BSCFA) and Belize Sugar Industries Limited/American Sugar Refining (BSI/ASR) is the Government of Belize.
Already being suspected of playing favorites, the Government must walk a tightrope between placating the major investor ASR, and maintaining the support and the vote of cane farmers who form the backbone of the northern constituencies.
And so, at another event on Monday, Prime Minister John Briceño spoke of Government being an “honest broker” and seeking compromise.
But the Prime Minister also spoke of a personal and emotional connection to the industry that he believes made him Prime Minister: “It is important for people to realize especially the investors, to realize the emotional connection that we in the north have with sugar, Who knows, maybe thanks to the sugar industry that probably I am prime minister today, because my father used to work with BSI and when George Price back then negotiated with Tate and Lyle to sell the sugar fields to the Belizeans, my father saw a wonderful opportunity and he encouraged my uncles to be able to take advantage of that opportunity and they use that to be able to invest and to be able to send us to school, to 6th form and myself to university. I think I am among the first from my family that graduated from university and like me there are thousands of us in the north that have benefitted from the sugar industry and we have to ensure that we protect the interest of the farmers. Now I say this, but I need to add that we also need to protect the interest of the investors ASR/BSI that they came to Belize not because they love us, but because they want to make money and that is fine as long as we do not take advantage of our farmers.”
Clearly easier said than done, but the Prime Minister went on to suggest that it was BSI/ASR who was “resisting” on the issue of better payments and that in a negotiation “Both sides wont like everything. But, at least we could have a working relationship between farmers, BSI and Government.”
Prime Minister Briceño further stated that it was important to him that cañeros remain owners of the industry, comparing it to what happened in tourism: “Tourism has been growing in leaps and bounds. But what has happened to us Belizeans? We have become the cooks. We wash dishes. We clean the swimming pools. We go fix the beds. We are not the real owners. The argument could be made that yes, you need a lot of money to invest in the tourism industry. We could argue that. But with sugar we own the land, we own the cane, and we have to ensure that Belizeans have ownership of the sugar industry.”
The P.M. is planning a meeting with Minister of Agriculture and fellow cane farmer Jose Abelardo Mai this week on the issue.
As for implications for the delay, the P.M. opined that weather conditions are not optimal for harvest as with recent rains the cane will be waterlogged and carry lots of mud which is not acceptable. He also hinted that government needed time to smooth out the sugar roads that are also being affected by weather and the result would be better cane quality and production.
BSI/ASR would start the season with one boiler online, processing 3,500 tons of cane per day and then getting up to near 7,000 tons with two boilers in a few weeks. The miller made sure to make light of BSCFA’s demand for consistency in production, pointing out that it has increased production by 20 percent with additions and improvements to the mill since it came to Belize.
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