The sugar cane industry has seen its fair share of challenges as world prices for refined white sugar has been plummeting for years. This time cane farmers are alleging they are losing-out on money because of discrepancies in the calculation of expenses by the miller at American Sugar Refinery’s Belize Sugar Industries. Sitnah Blease reports.
Sitnah Blease: Sugar cane farmers in the north are grappling with changes within the industry. For the first time in many years cane farmers are receiving the least amount for the second payment. Area representative for Orange Walk South, Jose Mai is speaking out on what he says are challenges within the sugar industry and how the decrease in payments are affecting cane farmers.
Jose Mai Area Representative Orange Walk South: That we knew the prices were going to be depressed .Yes we knew that; some associations did take initiatives. Steps to try to mitigate the effects of low payment but I don’t think enough was made. However, in our recent analysis of the payments and the cost of operations and cost freight and local handling. We have observed that while the prices are low; maybe the lowest it has been in years. Farmers would would have still been able to survive or can still survive if they cost that ASR has would have been managed or lowered.
Sitnah Blease: According Mai, it is their belief that there are discrepancies in ASR’s balance sheet that amount to eleven million fifteen thousand dollars, this amount was used as payment for Free alongside Shipment .
Jose Mai Area Representative Orange Walk South: The company operating in the west, the Mill in the west. They too produce Sugar Cane and export sugar to Europe. They are paying their famers today in the field; cane that is standing $36 per ton. If they deliver their sugar cane to the Mill they would be getting paid $55 per ton. In the north now; we deliver our cane to the Mill and we get paid $45.47. Ths our price; that is what they pay us so the question is how can one Mill pay $55 delivered to the Mill and $36 standing in the field and the other Mill in Orange Walk paying $45 delivered to the Mill when both of them are selling to the European Market under FOB conditions. They are telling the farmer all these marketing arrangements and shipments were made under the FAS agreement. FAS is very clear in its definition: It mean Free alongside ship and it means that the seller in this case ASR puts the sugar alongside the ship and the buyer in this case Tate and Lyle, the US. The buyer then pays the freight all the way to Europe. Now if that is the case; that is what FAS means. In that case then, if the buyer is paying for the ocean freight; why is that ASR has in their books. Why are they reporting to the farmer that we have a cost of $11,000,000 freight. That is not a cost for the farmers to bear or for the seller to bare. It is a cost for the buyer to pay; not for us.
Sitnah Blease: He also states, the road ahead for farmers will be challenging.
Jose Mai Area Representative Orange Walk South: I am a farmer and I don’t know how to move forward right now. I dont have the resources to invest in my cane field at this time. I had to find the source; find some way to do deal with it. As a matter of fact many of the Cane Farmers were unable to pay their loans and the way farmers operate if you know. They would get a second payment and then make and appointment with the bank and then ask for refinancing. That refinancing a portion of it goes into the field back: Fertilizers in terms of labor or wheat control and another portion goes to feeding the family but with the price so depressed the banks are saying I can’t refinance you because if you couldn’t pay me this year; you can’t pay me next year if the price goes down further so if the price goes down further and the price of ASR remain the same. You can’t survive.
Sitnah Blease: Mai said both ASR and Santander are very important to our economy and to the farmers, but they need to treat cane farmers fairly.
Mai said the cane farmers are prepared to go to court to get the matter settled.