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Jan 13, 2014

Cane farmers meet: sugar crop season set to begin on Monday

While there is a formal signing which ends the months-long impasse between B.S.I. and the B.S.C.F.A., it is an uneasy truce. There are farmers who support the start of the crop, and farmers who believe the crop should be delayed until B.S.I. makes a commitment to pay for bagasse, in writing. But NONE of the farmers are happy with B.S.I. There is a conviction among those farmers that B.S.I. is playing games and does not actually intend to pay for bagasse. There is also a strong sentiment of distrust for B.S.I. and its majority shareholders, A.S.R. In the end farmers folded – not smiling and happy, but faced with the grim financial reality that they have no other option. Mike Rudon was up north all day on Sunday and has a comprehensive review of the breaching of the sugar-cane crop impasse.

FOR VIDEO CLICK HERE: BSCFA MEETING

Mike Rudon, Reporting

On Sunday less than one thousand farmers showed up for the meeting to decide the way forward. Both B.S.I. and the BSCFA have found an interim agreement they can live with – seven points agreed to on January tenth, 2014. The farmers did not get what they wanted – a legally binding commitment by BSI to pay for bagasse – what they got was a promise, and a commitment of good faith.

 

Chris Coye, Attorney for BSCFA

Chris Coye

“In item one that the Association proposed one further amendment in item one to include terminology of good faith, so that the final draft of item one states that BSI in good faith fully intends to make payment for bagasse subject to negotiation of a new agreement.”

 

In principle, that is significant progress, since BSI at first would not even entertain the notion of a payment for bagasse. But ‘in principle’ and ‘in reality’ are two distinctly different things, and farmers are short on trust and doubtful that the factory is capable of good faith.

 

Chris Coye

“When you say B.S.I. in good faith fully intends to make payment for bagasse subject to the negotiation of a new agreement, what that is saying that I intend to pay you, but I am not giving a commitment to pay. That is what this is saying.”

 

Ramon Cervantes

Ramon Cervantes, Negotiating Team, BSCFA

“Ladies and gentlemen, I am not here to tell you to deliver or not. But I am here to tell you the truth about what is taking place with the negotiations. And what has arisen is that B.S.I. is not serious in paying in the future. Whether they will pay or not, only God knows. But by the way things look, I don’t have any confidence in that.”

 

Cane Farmer

“Then that means that if we do not reach an agreement, there is no payment. That means that BSI can drag their feet for as long as they want and things will remain the same. If we accept that we will not reach an agreement. We will just continue to deliver cane, mill it, and continue talking and talking, without any agreement. This is what this is saying – no agreement, no payment.”

 

Oscar Alonzo, C.E.O., BSCFA

Oscar Alonzo

“There is no guarantee that there will be payment for bagasse. This is what we have been trying to get from BSI. We could just continue to insisit and BSI could say that they won’t pay. If we want to measure forces, then it’s fine. If you all want to stop delivering cane until you get paid, then that is a separate decision. But there has been a breakthrough until now. We have moved from a situation where BSI was saying that they will not negotiate over bagasse, and that if there are negotiations, they will be undetermined. Now they are thinking about paying for the bagasse and that they will negotiate. So, there has been a change.”

 

That led to a fiery commentary from cane-farmers, many of whom are determined to stand firm, and stand down from delivery cane until they get what they demand.

 

Cane Farmer

“They are so unjust, cruel and ruthless. They act like that rich man that used to  throw lavish parties everyday and forgot about the beggar, Lazarus, who wanted to eat the crumbs that fell to the floor. Instead the dogs used to eat the food. Ladies and gentlemen, like I’ve said before, if we have been eating Ramen soup all this time, then eating a little more would not kill us. But if this situation continues, then that will kill us.”

 

Cane Farmer

“This meeting should not take long. It should be resolved in a matter of minutes. Did you negotiate payment for bagasse? Yes or no? The cane farmer wants to know if there was an agreement, yes or no? That is what we want to know. Because I’m tired of all the talking and talking… I don’t understand anything.”

 

Cane Farmer

“Now is the time for us, the cane farmers, to show that we are united. And for the first time I’m seeing that the cane farmers are really united. We should not let the government nor BSI take advantage of us. We must fight. If they do not want to mill our cane, then let them bring another factory to us. That is what we need… competition, another factory to mill our cane.”

 

The emotion, passion and resolve from some farmers are tempered by a grim financial reality from others. No crop means no money. And that is simply unacceptable.

 

Cane Farmer

“It is not economically feasible for me if there is a standstill. I owe the bank. I have land that is mortgaged to the bank. And at the end of this season, 2013-2014, the bank will send me a letter. What will I do?”

 

Cane Farmer

“I want to be paid for the bagasse. I would like that. The Prime Minister has said that payment for that bi-product will be carried out. For my part, , I listen to those who speak here, I listen to the radio. We need to have faith and hope that the negotiations will continue. And in my opinion, I hope the negotiations continue and there be a harvest.”

 

There are eighteen sugar-cane branches in the north, and one by one their leaders stood to state their positions. A majority claim that based on the mandate from their farmers, they are prepared to start the crop. It was by means a happy day or an easy decision for farmers, made worse by the fact that there are other factors in play, like the impassable sugar roads.

 

Cane Farmer

“We are being divided here. A district chairman should not be here asking you to vote. He should be consulting with the other chairmen. This is an in-house fight. My wife and I fight twenty times a day but I don’t go out and tell anybody my business. This is what is happening right now. We are being divided. How are we expected to begin to harvest when the weather has not been favourable. And the Prime Minister does not even want to help us. He said that if there is harvest, they will fix the roads. He is kind of… We need to have the roads fixed before we can cut cane. If not, we are not with them.”

 

In the end, farmers folded, and after more than six hours of discussion and debate, stood to pass the motion which effectively breaks the impasse in the industry.

 

Alfredo Ortega, Vice-Chairman, Committee of Management, BSCFA

Alfredo Ortega

“The final motion that was passed by the farmers is that yes, they approved the interim agreement that would be signed with BSI and that we will be sitting with BSI tomorrow in the afternoon to sign that agreement and thereafter we will be deciding the date for the start of a crop.”

 

As was expressed so eloquently by one cane-farmer, the date for start of crop will depend on the work done to fix sugar-roads. Mike Rudon for News Five.

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