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Nov 17, 2014

Cane-farmers United – Deliver Ultimatum to GOB

Cane-farmers from the Orange Walk and Corozal districts have given the Sugar Industry Control Board one week to break the impasse between BSI/ASR and the BSCFA. If that does not happen, they will stage a mass protest. That unanimous decision was taken at a general assembly meeting held on Saturday at the Escuela Secundaria Tecnica Mexico compound in San Roman, Corozal. The emergency session became necessary after BSI/ASR attempted to bypass the Association completely, offering contracts to reaping groups and individual farmers. As with most things, there is strength in numbers, and the company expressed confidence that it could sway a majority, if not all farmers. The meeting on Saturday was the BSCFA’s response to BSI, to show that the Association still controlled the eighteen cane-farmer branches…about five thousand five hundred farmers all told. Mike Rudon was in San Roman for the meeting and has the story.

 

Mike Rudon, Reporting

Approximately seven hundred cane-farmers were in attendance at the meeting on Saturday, along with leaders from eighteen branches of the BSCFA. It got underway at around ten a.m. and one of the first speakers was Chris Coye, the attorney who has been advising the BSCFA since the serious discussion on bagasse first started last year. He set the stage for the tone of the session, and sent the message which has been the BSCFA’s rallying cry.

 

Chris Coye, Attorney for BSCFA

Chris Coye

“If you stay united, the country will unite with you. The government will have no choice but to stand with you and work for you. ASR is not your friend. Mac McLachlan is not your friend. They are not your saviours. They are wolves in sheep’s clothing. McLachlan is trying to prove himself to his bosses. He only got this job two months ago. ASR wants to make an example of you to the world. Challenge us and we will bury you. What example will you be? One that stood up together and demanded what is right and fair, or one that was divided, conquered, chewed and spit out?”

 

It is not an easy decision for farmers to make. For many of them, their very survival hinges on a successful crop. They are desperate to get their product to the mill. Already faced with backbreaking labour and weather and road conditions which make harvest and delivery difficult, they cannot afford any delay in the crop. But even faced with this dilemma, the farmers have dug deep and are standing together against BSI.

 

Heider Romero

Heider Romero, Canefarmer

“I ask you from the bottom of my heart to please support this. I want a crop season, because it is urgent. All of us want money for Christmas…we want to be happy with our families. But we cannot allow an American and a Cuban to take advantage of us. Let’s show them that we have the key to stay united.”

 

Jose Novelo Sr., Canefarmer

Jose Novelo Sr

“There is a chain, we can say it’s a chain like the one used in cane in the old days. This chain can be used to pull out the truck that is stuck in mud. The chain is strong, powerful…but suppose one link of the chain goes to hell, the chain isn’t good for anything anymore.”

 

 

Diodi Novelo

Diodi Novelo, Canefarmer

“We as cane-farmer will be prepared when BSI says that the gates are open, deliver your cane…but not without an interim agreement.”

 

There were three resolutions passed unanimously on Saturday, but the third is the most important, and is the position of the cane-farmers from which they will not budge.

 

Oscar Alonzo, Chief Executive Officer, BSCFA

Oscar Alonzo

“One, that an independent expert be recruited to evaluate the two formulas for the payments for bagasse, and also to consider the request of the BSCFA where it says that it is determined to start the crop but that an interim agreement be signed.”

 

Armando Martinez

Armando Martinez, Canefarmer

“We need to take another road for them to listen to us. BSI doesn’t want to. The Association can’t. GOB has said take care of it by yourselves, I won’t get involved. Then we won’t go forward. There is nowhere to go. I think that we need a demonstration. We need to go as cane-farmers, but all of us, to show the government that we need their help against BSI.”

 

There has been much criticism of the Sugar Industry Control Board, government’s regulating body in the industry, which has been content to maintain a ‘hands-off’ position. The BSCFA appealed to that body for intervention once, but got no response. And now, they are calling out again. With so much at stake in a volatile but invaluable industry, the SICB has had no choice but to answer, though reluctantly, it seems.

 

Gabriel Martinez, Chairman, Sugar Industry Control Board

Gabriel Martinez

“I assured the General Assembly that the SICB will be meeting shortly. We had set the twenty-fifth of November to have this meeting to consider those requests that have been made and so move on from there. The negotiations have come to a point where it seems both entities are sticking on to their positions, and now we will look at that particular issue of their request for an independent expert to come and look at the formulas that have been proposed.”

 

The crop should tentatively start in the first week of December. BSI has set November twenty-eighth as the deadline for farmers to sign on. So the SICB’s lukewarm assurance to hold a meeting on the twenty-fifth wasn’t good enough. The farmers then passed a motion giving the SICB five days to meet and break the impasse, or else.

 

Alfredo Ortega, Negotiating Team Member, BSCFA

Alfredo Ortega

“The farmers are looking forward into a five days period that things be solved, and that means its Monday to Friday. And from thereafter things need to be moved to show that things are going on. And why is it that the farmers are asking for that to happen? Because we need the intervention of government to resolve this situation!”

 

Oscar Alonzo

“If we start the crop without an interim agreement. If that decision is not made, then it will proceed with a big public social demonstration to have all parties understand the gravity and the need to resolve this issue before the end of the month.”  

 

Javier Keme, Chairman, Finance Committee, BSCFA

Javier Keme

“The best thing is to get BSI to agree to accept the interim agreement to start our crop. We are committed, the Association, the membership, the general assembly, committed that we are ready to start.”

 

All eighteen branch leaders, theoretically representing all fifty-five hundred farmers, committed to the support of the Association, which on the face of it seems the death knell to BSI’s move to off the middle-man BSCFA.

 

Alfredo Ortega

“Today has proved that the agreement that BSI put forward has come to an end today. The farmers had already passed a motion that they are prepared to start a crop with the interim agreement. So that means that the agreement that BSI has put forward has come to a death today. The voice of these people that were here today is a strong voice and the motions and resolutions that were passed needed to be heard and we will act based on those resolutions.”

 

Notably, there were reports last week that about twelve hundred farmers under the Corozal Sugar-cane Producers Association had agreed to sign on to BSI’s new contract. That never materialized, and now the BSCFA says those farmers are fully on board with the Association. Mike Rudon reporting for News Five.

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1 Response for “Cane-farmers United – Deliver Ultimatum to GOB”

  1. CEO says:

    Good deal! Do not give up or give in! Stand united and fight for what is yours. Do not allow them to divide you and conquer you!

    The farmers are partners with BSI because they share in losses and profits: whicn prices are high they all make more money and when prices are down they all make less money. So when there is more profits to be made from the processing the cane why do they now think the profits should be all theirs and the farmers should not get any?

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