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Sugar looking sweet for export market but sour for local supply despite projected production increase

Posted: Monday, May 20, 2024. 6:25 pm CST.

By Aaron Humes: A confluence of issues is putting increased stress on Belize’s number-one industry, a Breaking Belize News investigation has found.

According to the most recent figures from Belize Sugar Industries Limited (BSI), it has ground just under 789 thousand tons of cane in the 19 weeks of the season to date, through May 12. From this it has produced 80,487 tons of sugar cane. The crop which was initially projected to be just under 1 million tons of cane, has been revised and can reach up 1.1 million tons depending the ability of farmers to harvest sugarcane up to the end of June and salvage much of the cane that is still in the field. However, a worry at this time of the year is that if the season extends too deeply into the first months of rain, it would damage late-producing cane stalks, lower ratio of tons cane to tons sugar (TC/TS) and bring more mud to the BSI factory.

Recently, Minister of Agriculture Jose Mai noted a shortage of active cane cutters and other workers, hampering production. 

At the same time, there are the beginnings of a sugar shortage in parts of the country, as outlined by BSI in a press release this week. Some Cayo stores are reported to sell sugar in two-pound bags per person only. According to BSI, it has increased local sugar distribution by 18 percent for plantation white sugar and eight percent for brown sugar in the first four months of 2024. BSI believes the only explanation for why there could be none on store shelves is contraband – Belizean sugar trucked across the borders to Mexico and Guatemala where higher profits can be expected. 

Reliable reports from Mexico, the eighth largest sugar producer worldwide at 6 million tons compared to Belize’s best-ever year of 1.3 million, is expected to see production decrease from 5.2 million in 2022-2023, to a decade-low 4.7 million which will not be enough to meet both local consumption (about 4.4 to 4.6 million) and sales to the United States (1 to 1.4 million). 

With American sugar stocks also expected to decrease, both countries can be expected to turn to Belize, the US maybe allocating more quota to Belize and Mexico potentially yielding to a request by Prime Minister Briceno to lower the excessive tariffs levied on Belize’s sugar. Informally, however, there will be greater pressure to sell white sugar through the illegal border crossings to both Mexico and Guatemala – cutting the national throat in terms of domestic sales. 

BSI has once again proposed increasing sugar prices locally in a bid to keep more of our product at home, but failing that, it says it has written to distributors warning that they would be cut out of future contracts if caught selling through informal channels. 

The 2023-2024 crop is expected to end sometime in June by agreement with the four cane farmers associations and BSI.

 

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