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Members of Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association lead protest outside Sir Edney Cain Building during BSI presentation to Cabinet

Posted: Wednesday, March 8, 2023. 10:05 am CST.

By Aaron Humes: While they were kept well away from the Sir Edney Cain Building in which Cabinet meets, the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association (BSCFA) added street pressure to its arsenal of efforts to obtain fair payment for their product with a protest on Tuesday morning.

Between 100 and 200 members, joined by Opposition Leader Moses “Shyne” Barrow and deputy Hugo Patt, set up camp on Melhado Parade in view of the Cain Building and also circled Market Square and the National Assembly in central Belmopan, taking advantage of an appearance by executives of Belize Sugar Industries Limited/American Sugar Refining (BSI) before the Executive, which the BSCFA had been granted in January.

Chairman of the Committee of Management Alfredo Ortega insists a Commission of Inquiry is necessary to get to the bottom of why an agreement with BSI/ASR cannot be reached: “…we want the commission of inquiry to be approved so that then they can come with information that is needed for a better agreement with B.S.I. We want a different commercial agreement, we have been looking forward to that. We got promises from before this party came into government that changes will be done. We’re expecting those changes to happen.”

As Ortega reminded, farmers want to be relieved of growing costs for cane production, taking 60 percent of the gross revenue before expenses.

If the protest does not result in a palatable agreement for them, Chairman Ortega said they are prepared to go further. But Ortega stopped short of saying what their next step of action will be: “And we have to go further, we will go farther because what we are looking for (is) the benefit of our farmers, not for a personal benefit. …if our farmers are in good standing, the community is in good standing and their families are in good standing.” He would not say if the BSCFA was prepared to go as far as blocking the mill from accepting deliveries from other cane farmers as happened in 2021 and early 2022.

Ortega also acknowledged that before BSCFA splintered, they had suggested a rise in domestic sugar prices, but while the price of plantation white sugar rose in 2014, brown sugar has remained consistently at 39 cents per pound retail, though unofficially sold at higher prices. Now is not the best time for such an increase because it would “penalize” consumers: “We are not in agreement with that because there are many other ways where the price per ton of cane can be increased in favour of the farmer without having to penalize the Belize consumers in raising the price of sugar because if they raise the price of sugar, believe me, you that the bread and other stuff will be increased. So, we as the BSCFA, we don’t support that. What we want is that that forty/sixty be instituted and then the farmers will get a better payment for their cane.”

 

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