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Dec 8, 2016

Cane Farmers’ Association Tries to Make Up with Fairtrade; No Love for Eloy Escalante

The Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association today stepped forward to tell its side of the Fairtrade suspension debacle. The B.S.C.F.A. was suspended for the third time in eight years after auditors found that former San Estevan cane farmer Eloy Escalante sold his quota or production estimate to the son of a Government Minister, Edmond Castro, who now acts as its administrator. Apparently, that’s against Fairtrade rules, and if the situation is not corrected in six months, farmers stand to lose a significant financial windfall, which is tough news to stomach in these hard times. According to the Association, the decision to disown Escalante was a tough but necessary one. News Five’s Aaron Humes reports from Orange Walk.

 

Aaron Humes, Reporting

The Belize Sugar Cane Farmers’ Association’s executives gathered in their conference room this morning were at pains not even to mention the name of a man who had been one of their own – Eloy Escalante. For the sake of his more than three thousand fellow farmers, he does not exist – at least, not on the Association’s list of farmers, nor those of his home branch. And the Association hopes that the Sugar Cane Production Committee will help them pacify the FLOCERT auditors, to whom the BSCFA has written asking to lift their suspension, by reflecting the same on their records. If not, according to C.E.O. Oscar Alonzo, a significant windfall is at stake – but also, so is the future of the rest of the sugar industry.

 

Oscar Alonzo

Oscar Alonzo, C.E.O., B.S.C.F.A.

“The rules of the suspension stipulate that we are allowed to continue to trade Fairtrade products with Fairtrade-certified trade partners with whom a Fairtrade relationship exists, for a volume that cannot exceed fifty percent of the volumes traded as Fairtrade in the preceding twelve months. Or, continue to trade with Fairtrade-certified trade partners with whom existing Fairtrade contracts are in place for the total Fairtrade volume contracted prior to the suspension. Now, we had already signed a contract with Tate and Lyle for the Fairtrade premium for last year’s crop. We understand that we will still get it; it’s in the process of being remitted to us; now in the process of trying to tell them that based on this, we should still – we need to go ahead and sign a contract for the coming year, that is 2016-2017, based on this clause. And what Fairtrade, what FLOCERT has indicated, is that as soon as we are showing that we are complying with that criteria, they will lift the suspension.”

 

The Association acknowledges that the state of affairs that led to Escalante’s transaction with Minister Edmond Castro and his son has existed – and officially been approved – for some time. But times change. The outspoken chair of the Orange Walk Branch of the Association, Alfredo Ortega, says there was ample opportunity for Castro to avail himself of and follow the rules.

 

Alfredo Ortega

Alfredo Ortega, Chair, Orange Walk Branch, BSCFA

“Any person that plant cane reports to the SCPC and make an application and he can get a license to deliver. That went through way up to 2012, when we were below the maximum capacity of the mill. But since 2012, when the survey showed that there is an overproduction of material, that is when the SCPC took a decision, okay, we will not be making any new cane farmers. And that is where, when you see the history of the situation where we are now, is where it placed us into this bad situation; because if this transaction or this situation would have continued as it was between 2005 and 2012, Mister Castro would have been the farmer from the very beginning, without going through with Mister X person to get that quota – because the system would have placed him as the farmer. But because they stopped and this situation came for the past three years that it has shown that we have an overproduction, then that took us to this situation.”

 

While a painful choice, for the chairman of the Finance Committee, Javier Keme, it represents a moral choice that the B.S.C.F.A. felt it had to take.

 

Javier Keme

Javier Keme, Chair, Finance Committee, B.S.C.F.A.

“We have a moral responsibility being a certified organization to comply with the standards, and the standards are very clear; we just have to follow the rule and the rule says that the organization must find a way to show that the product produced was produced by its members. That’s the only issue; that we have to find a way that we can show that the product produced was produced by its members. And I think we have all the evidence to substantiate that, that’s why I am very positive that the suspension will not be there for a long period of time. This is a way of how the industry has been operating for years, and the gentleman there had mentioned that the use of administration had served the purposes before; but now the issue of our compliance is different; we have to take it from a different angle, then. The organization as such has a different responsibility.”

 

From Orange Walk Town, Aaron Humes reporting for News Five.

 

The Association moved quickly rather than wait for the December twentieth deadline set by Fairtrade. This evening, it sent a statement as a follow-up announcing, “Flo-Cert has just informed us that they confirmed the corrective measures we proposed for the non-conformities.  They have given us four months to implement the corrective measures.  We will proceed to implement them immediately so that we can enable Flo-Cert to lift the suspension.” The previous suspensions related to administrative issues and child labour.

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