Ghost Farmers Cause Problems in the Sugar Industry

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Updated: December 5, 2016

While the Sugar Industry is set to face a challenging crop season going into 2017 as it pertains to the international market, locally, the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association is facing its own internal battles. BSCFA was recently suspended by FLO-CERT, the inspection and certification body for Fairtrade. For the BSCFA, this is a huge concern because if the matter is not resolved soon, they can lose more than a million dollars in assistance. The suspension was the result of an audit that revealed improper practices by a member of the association. The audit revealed that the son of Minister Edmund Castro was delivering cane in the name of Eloy Escalante. Reportedly, this had been going on for more than two years and in respect to Fairtrade standards, this was a violation. But the case between the Minister’s son and Escalante, is not the only one. It’s a practice employed by many cane farmers up in the north. Hipolito Novelo reports.

HIPOLITO NOVELO REPORTING

“Agriculture Minister, Godwin Hulse is a cane farmer. He has his acres of cane growing in the River valley area…..”

GODWIN HULSE

Well I can’t sell it because the law says Orange Walk and Corozal and I don’t want my name saying that I am a ghost farmer.”

LOCAL REPORTER

In the case of your cabinet colleague Castro is that something that you frown upon or do you believe that as a Minister he should have known better?”

GODWIN HULSE

Well I don’t know what known better means I’ve been asked this question over and over now so let me state the facts as I know them, I understand from him that he has a license that is what I understand from him I haven’t checked the records , I also understand from him that he is registered as administrator where an Eloy Escalante is concerned. I don’t know what that administrator means at this point so don’t’ cut and paste that out of the thing. I don’t know what that means at this point but what I do know is that he has cane, that I know for a fact because his plantation is next to mine and I see his trucks hauling out, I see his son’s driving them and I see him there on the weekend he has cane and as a man who has cane and has invested he should be able to sell it. Now how come his name is not on the list I don’t know and I won’t pretend to know, we will find out but I don’t grow on the fact that he has cane and needs to sell his cane. What I would frown on his that his cane would have to be sold in somebody else’s name and he has to pay that somebody else because there is no way he can get his cane in and the somebody else’s name that it is in doesn’t have any cane. Those are the kinds of mess but let’s be real he has cane he should be able to sell his cane, as simple as that.”

HIPOLITO NOVELO REPORTING

“During his address, Hulse brought up a very serious topic: the topic of ghost farming which is the main reason why the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association is facing its third suspension from Fairtrade.  A recent audit revealed that Minister Edmund Castro and his son were delivering tons of cane in the name of Eloy Escalante, a registered member of the BSCFA.”

GODWIN HULSE

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HIPOLITO NOVELO REPORTING

“According to Chairman Sugar Cane Production Committee, Dr. Carlos Itza, it’s not that simple. Each registered cane farmers is given a quota and all these farmers make up the farmers’ registry created by the Sugar Cane Production Committee- the regulatory body of the sugar industry.”

DR CARLOS ITZA

This is the number of farmers that appear in that registry are people generally recognized from either Corozal Or Orange Walk, only when the factory does not or there is not sufficient cane then we authorize the entrance of other farmers from other districts. This registry is basically reviewed every year where we provide, we do verification on the ground, based on what they have in their registry, based on what we verify from either the planting that they have done of cane or even any alterations of the production in the field we capture it and then we create a new registry every year. Of course we are cognizant that the system is not 100% affected because people do several types of business either sell their quote to other people those things we only get to know when they start to surface into a problem that the agreement went bad and we start to see the effect that somebody has the production quota but don’t have the cane, they are selling that production to somebody else.”

HIPOLITO NOVELO REPORTING

“For the past three years, the SCPC was not accepting any new farmers.”

DR CARLOS ITZA

“Three years ago the SCPC passed a resolution stating that no new farmers will be accepted that means that except in the absence that somebody dies and then by inheritance that allocation is provided to close relatives then it is accepted to create a new farmer bit only as any person that has and then that person is living and wants to transfer the production estimate it cannot be done at this stage.”

HIPOLITO NOVELO REPORTING

“It is believed that because of this ban, ghost farming within the sugar industry has increased.”

DR CARLOS ITZA

“Eloy Escalante as far as I am concerned is the only one highlighted in the audit but from what we are telling you is that we might have some indications that there are more people in similar situation, how many there are we would have to do a comprehensive review of the system.”

MAC McLACHLAN

I think what we’re looking at here as I understand it is that cuts to the core is a significant problem that existed in Belize where you asked earlier about quotas for cane is when people who don’t necessarily have that cane do have a quota for cane and it’s what tended to happen in the past is that cane has been bought and sold particularly from farmers who are under stress because they have the cane but not the quote, that is an inefficient way to run a business it’s not the way the sugar act of Belize is established which asks for a census to take place every three years to assess where the cane is and how much it is and who owns it.”

HIPOLITO NOVELO REPORTING

“Escalante has been ousted from the BSCFA however he remains on the farmers’ registry. Reporting for Love News, I am Hipolito Novelo.”