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Nov 5, 2013

Cane farmers say they want in on the millions of dollars earned from bagasse

There is an impasse tonight between the Belize Sugar Industries and the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association. BSCFA walked out of a meeting with B.S.I. and the American Sugar Refining Company last week because the association says it is being cut out of profits generated from bagasse. The profits amount to millions of dollars and the BSCFA says it has legal claim to part of it. According to the cane farmers, the last figure afforded to them by B.S.I. is twenty-one million dollars in 2011. Duane Moody reports.


Duane Moody, Reporting

Trouble is brewing in the sugar cane industry up north. The Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association and the Belize Sugar Industry shareholders have been meeting to renegotiate the Business Agreement between both entities. For the most part the agreement which has been rolling over since 2002 is accepted and approved by both sides, but on September twenty-sixth at one of its meetings, representatives of the BSCFA walked out from the negotiations when they couldn’t see eye to eye.

 

Alfredo Ortega, Vice President, Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association

Alfredo Ortega

“That was signed in 1992; since 1992, that was coming on stream. The last agreement that was signed was in 2002 and whereby it remains in the agreement between B.S.I. and BSCFA and based on that also is our argument that whatever by-product that generate economical value and it is very clear in that section of the memorandum of agreement that we will sit down and negotiate and whatever formula that comes out of that negotiation, we will both share the economical value and benefit out of that by-product.”

 

Bagasse is the fibrous matter that is left behind after sugar cane is crushed and its juices extracted by the mills at the Tower Hill Factory. Initially, it was only molasses and sugar that were the by-products of the sugary stalks that was profitable; the bagasse was considered waste. But for some years now, that ‘so called’ waste is being used by BELCOGEN as a bio-fuel used to generate electricity. That electricity in turn is being bought by Belize Electricity Limited and millions of dollars worth of revenue is being generated—revenue that ends up solely in the coffers of B.S.I. and its shareholders. According to Vice President of the Belize Sugar Industry, Alfredo Ortega, cane farmers are entitled to a piece of that pie.

 

Alfredo Ortega

“On the first year when the interconnection came on board, they got eleven million from B.E.L. and on the second year, they got twenty-one millions. That is the report that we received from them. If they have gotten eleven and twenty-one and now this last two that means that it is increasing and there is a value. Apart from that, they are using forty-five gigas which they transform as nine megas. They are paying BELCOGEN, B.S.I.—the mill—is paying BELCOGEN, four point four-ninety-eight million dollars. And the other part, the other twenty-three, is being paid by the bagasse. So they have a price on the bagasse. So we are saying to them since there is a value and you are getting an economic value from it, share something with us. We have placed ten dollars as a value. But they are not coming even to respect us.”

 

At Friday’s House meeting, Orange Walk South Area Representative, Jose Mai, in his address expressed concerned about the bubbling situation. Mai spoke of the need for government to intervene as a facilitator to avoid a repeat of 2010 industrial action that was taken by the farmers up north that lead to the killing of Atanascio Gutierrez.

 

Jose Mai

Jose Mai, Orange Walk South Area Representative

“My request is to intervene strategically, timely so that we can avoid going down that same path.”

 

Reporter

“In your estimation, it is already starting to show that effect?”

 

Jose Mai

“I have not heard any feedback from government; I know that the farmers are still adamant. They are asking B.S.I. to meet with them to discuss that issue. It is a very important component in the business agreement between B.S.I. and the cane farmers. So the farmers are asking let us sit down and discuss the revenue sharing of bagasse.”

 

Alfredo Ortega

“We are also asking that the government of Belize listen to us also. I think that there can be a good intervention from the prime minister, from the government of Belize so that we can bring this negotiation to an end whereby both of us—B.S.I. and ourselves and all the industry—can start a crop with clear agreement whereby both of us can benefit out of the sugar industry.”

 

Jose Mai

“I am optimistic and I think that ASR who actually runs the show now intends in the future to discuss this with the cane farmers. I’m hoping that that is the case. Previous management of B.S.I. was totally disrespectful to the cane farmers—they have continuously avoided the topic; they have continuously ignored the rest of cane farmers to meet, and I am very disappointed at that. But we know how they have operated in the past and they have disrespected the cane farmers for too long.”

 

In an effort to get the other side of the story, today we tried to contact representatives from B.S.I. but were unable to secure an interview. Duane Moody for News Five.

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