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Apr 9, 2013

Burning the cane; the real ‘Farmville’ story

The sugar industry remains one of the single most important industries.  At least one hundred thousand tons of sugar is produced annually both for export and for the local market. Last October American Sugar Refinery acquired majority shares of the Belize Sugar Industries, and by and large, the industry is improving with better quality and better prices for the sugar.  The production of sugar starts with the planting of the cane and ends at the sugar mill… Duane Moody has that story.


For most caneros, including the Cob Family, the work day starts as early as four a.m. when they make preparations to go out to the field to harvest cane. And the tedious and time-consuming process—Project Get to the Factory—begins.


After an early breakfast, it’s off to pick up the cutters, los cortadores, and then it’s to the fields.


The quota is to get two truckloads of sugary sweet bark by the end of the day for delivery to the Belize Sugar Industry (B.S.I.) Factory at Tower Hill, Orange Walk.


The stem of this Saccharum stands some ten feet from the ground and fills this cane field.  Cutters work around the clock, enduring seven day work weeks during the six-month long cane season.


Rodolfo Pacheco, Cutter

“We have to cut the cane at the ground because if we lef wah piece a cane, we are losing right there. We lose like a worker and the employer lose right there the money that ih spend on the cane. Cut the root and then ih cut off the leaves. The leaves you have to see that you don’t leave cane.  We put it by bunches so that the cane loader doesn’t pick up the ground or grasses or anything like that.”


Rodolfo Pacheco

Duane Moody

“How long would it take something like this for you guys to do and how many loads would this create?”


Rodolfo Pacheco

“This creates a lee bit because when the loader come, they will load it today and take it to the factory today.”


Duane Moody

“This would be about what; two truckloads?”


Rodolfo Pacheco

“No one truck load, one trip. And the trip you are talking about fifteen to sixteen tons. We have to cut a row for the guarda raya and we have to mine it when we come and put the fire on the cane.”


Duane Moody

“Guarda Raya,” which when translated means safe-line, is done to separate the plot of mature sugar cane ready for harvest into quadrants determined by load amounts. The section is then burnt.”


Rogelio Cob, Cane Farmer

“They are doing guarda raya to make sure that the next side of the cane field doesn’t get burnt. The precautions are to go inside and take care because there are a lot of rattlesnakes. We should cut the cane. After we cut the row, we should clean all the spot so that the fire does not cross the next side.”


Rogelio Cob

Duane Moody

“The burning, how long does it take?”


Rogelio Cob

“Depends on how the wind is blowing. If the wind is blowing this side, we should start put three bunch, three spots of cane. After that, we should take care that there is no sparks jumping the next side. We should also bring a knapsack with water.”


The grey skies is the backdrop for a production that awakens the senses; the crackling sound of burning foliage; the animals that make the field their habitat scurrying away to safety… the seemingly never-ending flames and smoke form a kaleidoscope of colors as the aroma of the burnt sugary sap infuses the air and can be smelled from a distance away.


In the aftermath of the burning, the cycle repeats itself.


The piles of cane are then loaded on to the trucks for transportation to the factory. Another tedious step is the run-up to the factory as the trucks form a queue in the dead of the night awaiting their turn for the cargo to be processed at the B.S.I. sugar mill. The data entries are made and the trucks then move on to be offloaded.


Truck Driver

“We are waiting for the hour. Right now we have in the front Douglas Branch di go and then we have till eleven o’clock Douglas Branch di go and then San Jose and then next branches.”


Andre Ku

Andre Ku, Ticketer

“We have to wait until the chemist give us the word to come in. And we have to call them from over there and they come with a small ticket and they have to wait until dehn call me. Every person has a special quota and they have to wait until dehn call me. I have to put it into the computer, file it, then have to fax it inside the B.S.I. Then they can come in. An army truck, we know that it is ten tons down; a ten wheeler is fifty tons up and a trailer is twenty to twenty-five tons and if an army brings a nine ton, we have to allow him to come in.”


But how lucrative is the business? Francisco Cob says in trade, investment is key…from the purchasing of the high-grain cane seeds to the fertilizer and equipment needed to man the field.  Essentially, having one’s own equipment can make the job easier.


Francisco Cob, Cane Farmer (Translated)

Francisco Cob

“Only that the business of cane is a bit expensive to do: planting the cane, fertilizing it, fumigating it, it is a little more costly because of the fair trade that has begun….but years before the price of cane was cheaper. To plant one acre of cane it’s costing roughly one thousand four hundred dollars. The business of planting cane is very expensive but what is helping us is the fair trade and we are earning a little bit more money. For me it has been an accomplishment to have my machinery and land and to learn the mechanisms of my plants. My wife and I are producing one thousand seven hundred tons of cane.”


…Approximately a hundred thousand dollars annually. Cob maintains that it is a family business and every element from the cutters, to the drivers and the spouses who prepare the healthy foods for a successful day’s work; it is all interconnected and makes Project Get to the Factory possible.


This process is repeated every day in order to feed the mills at the B.S.I. Compound to create the grainy substance, a staple used by many: by Bowen & Bowen in the production of your favorite beverages or inside your homes to sweeten that refreshing mug of cool-aid. So the next time you go to your nearest grocery store and purchase a pound of the sweet stuff; know that your brothers in the north, los caneros, play a vital role in getting it into your homes – recuerda a los caneros. Duane Moody for News Five.


Since then, the delivery of cane at B.S.I. has changed significantly; the process has been improved so that truckers do not spend the long hours in lines which improves the quality and saves time. 

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Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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2 Responses for “Burning the cane; the real ‘Farmville’ story”

  1. melinda says:

    BSI produces over one hundred thousand tons of sugar every year not one hundred tons!! Each day about 700 tons is produced. Please listen to your news when they are giving updates each wednesday on the industry. Last year it was some 114,000 reaping 120 million to factory and farmers, 35% to 65% respectively.

  2. Bear says:

    It’s an important industry here, and seems to be getting better with knowledgeable foreigners running the mill and supporting the farmers better. That’s a lesson we can learn with other industries, I think. There’s no shame in asking for expert help to improve yourself, and to make our country better for our children.

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