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Dec 8, 2014

Fate of Sugar Crop Season Hangs In the Balance

On Friday, A.S.R./B.S.I. rejected the B.S.C.F.A.’s proposals on the three points which sit on the negotiating table like ten thousand pound gorillas. One is the timeframe of the agreement which would govern the relationship between farmers and factory. The second is the ownership of the cane, and the third is the formula for the payment of bagasse. Following that rejection, the farmers have now turned deliberately to government for intervention, a last resort before other, less pleasant resorts. The B.S.C.F.A.’s negotiating team met with Deputy Prime Minister Gaspar Vega on Saturday, and this morning with Prime Minister Dean Barrow cancelled an official visit to Cuba. So what lies ahead for an industry which has been in turmoil more often than not? Mike Rudon was at the Biltmore Plaza this morning and has the story.

 

Mike Rudon, Reporting

In the next week, we will likely either be enjoying the rich scent of sugar-cane being processed at the mill, or the stench of burning rubber on the highway. We’ve seen the latter, and it’s not something we want to see again. The last time it did, over the core sampler, a cane-farmer was shot in the head and killed. But cane-farmers are reaching to breaking point after the latest attempt to negotiate with B.S.I. was shot down. This morning, all parties with the exception of B.S.I./A.S.R., trooped wearily into the Biltmore with the hope of a resolution. About an hour and a half later, they were back out after discussions on an issue that is at critical mass.

 

Dean Barrow

Prime Minister Dean Barrow

“It clearly is important because we need the crop to start. Without the crop clearly the entire economy of the north will be terribly affected…lots of farmers who owe money to the banks will face the pain of foreclosure. It’s just unthinkable that we wouldn’t have a crop. I had already indicated that if it appeared necessary I would come back. And over the weekend I spoke to the deputy Prime Minister and made the changes. The idea is again just to get clear from the farmers precisely what their position is, and thereafter to take that to B.S.I./A.S.R. in an effort to bridge the remaining gaps.”

 

For the negotiating team of B.S.C.F.A., it is an unenviable position they are in, because they represent five thousand, five hundred cane-farmers. Those farmers want – no – those farmers need the crop to start like yesterday. Many of them feel that the B.S.C.F.A. has been playing too nice. And so it’s reached that point.

 

Ezekiel Cansino

Ezekiel Cansino, Chairman, Committee of Management, B.S.C.F.A.

“We believe that it’s more flexible and that’s why we as cane-farmers believe that we are going too far being flexible. We are trying our best to get to an agreement. We hope that at this time we get through the impasse and if not, we will be seeking other options.”

 

Indeed, it appears that the negotiating team has been extremely flexible on the points of contention. Where the timeframe of the agreement is concerned, the B.S.C.F.A. wanted one year but have now accepted B.S.I.’s proposal of seven, on the condition that they can cancel it if the parties can’t agree on a strategic development plan. On the matter of the ownership, the B.S.C.F.A. has agreed to give B.S.I. ownership, on the condition that they can renegotiate for a percentage of future by-products. And now they’ve gone further on the bagasse payment.

 

Ezekiel Cansino

“We presented to the Prime Minister a proposal as to where we are willing to accept the fifty-one cents for at least three years, but this time we want them to give us their accounts to see if they are making some profit, because they are claiming that they are experiencing only losses and no profits, but we want to see if they are doing some profits so that we can at least negotiate some increment on the fifty-one cents.”

 

Dean Barrow

“I think that the farmers are showing a great deal of flexibility and I believe that we are in a position where we can get this thing done.  I don’t think those remaining gaps are huge. I think they are bridgeable. And so I will be making every effort to get A.S.R. and the B.S.C.F.A. to finally agree.”

 

But what happens if A.S.R./B.S.I. doesn’t see it quite that way?

 

Reporter

“Have you communicated to the Prime Minister that it is reaching that time where the farmers are becoming increasingly inclined to protest?”

 

Ezekiel Cansino

“Obviously…obviously. And he is well aware about that. And I don’t know if he was kidding but he said that in that case he would be willing to join us on that protest if that is the solution for us to get into an agreement.”

 

Dean Barrow

“We have this last chance. I think it is the last chance. I believe the farmers will wait to see what comes of my discussion with A.S.R..”

 

The Prime Minister is doubtful that the crop will start in the next week but ever hopeful that it will before Christmas. Mike Rudon for News Five.

 

The negotiating team has agreed to wait for word from the Prime Minister who should be meeting with A.S.R./B.S.I. very soon. Of course, we reiterate that the team is governed by five thousand, five hundred farmers who are volatile at the best of times, and this is certainly not that.

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1 Response for “Fate of Sugar Crop Season Hangs In the Balance”

  1. Ricky Malthus says:

    ASR/BSI are sitting pretty now and the future. Cane farmers will have these same perennial problems unless the agreement by ASR to purchase the sugar factory is abrogated and replaced with one where the cane farmers can sell their cane elsewhere. Without going into too much economic analyses, the farmers and the country are screwed under the present monopoly ASR/BSI are enjoying. I wish all Belizean businesses could enjoy all the benefits and economic advantages that ASR/BSI receive from government.

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