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Feb 27, 2002

Losses mount at BSI

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Last week we reported on problems at the Tower Hill Sugar Factory, primarily complaints by farmers that the facility was not processing their cane fast enough. Today, a briefing from Belize Sugar Industries indicate that those same problems have resulted in the company’s second consecutive year without a profit. According to the Managing Director’s Review of Operations for the financial year ending in September 2001, BSI lost just over four and a half million Belize dollars on revenues of seventy-four point six million. Those losses are roughly the same as in 2000, although in that year total sales reached eighty-three million dollars.

According to Managing Director Joey Montalvo, there are mixed signs on the horizon for the future of the sugar industry. In the plus column, there has been a significant increase in the world market price of sugar, meaning higher revenues for that amount not sold under European and U.S. quotas. There has also been a short-term increase in the Special Preference sugar quota to the E.U., as well as a recent increase in the control price of sugar on the Belize market. Molasses prices are also rising after several years at depressed levels.

In the minus column, however, the sugar industry faces fundamental deficiencies, primarily centring on the production process. Cane deliveries have declined, which, coupled with lower sugar to cane ratios, has meant significantly reduced sugar production. In 2001, BSI produced only one hundred and four thousand tons of sugar, compared to one hundred and twenty thousand tons in 2000. Cane quality has also dropped, particularly in terms of mud on the cane stalks. The ratio of mud to cane has more than doubled from two point four-four percent in 1995 to five point seven-six percent in 2001.

This high proportion of mud slows the milling process, results in less sugar and higher costs. Looking ahead, the BSI report calls for an expansion of cane production to achieve higher efficiencies of scale, particularly through increased yields and better farming practices. Montalvo says the recently enacted Sugar Industry Act of 2001 lays the groundwork for improved performance, and the prospect of co-generation of electricity from bagasse provides a solid foundation for the long term success of the industry.

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